Can stories play a part in healing?
Trauma is a reality for many people. And we’re often unequipped to know how to respond when we see it in others.
More than 300,000 kids have been in a school when a shooting took place since Columbine. Let that sink in. There are those who may be killed or wounded by bullets, but there are hundreds of thousands who experience trauma, which affects us psychologically, physiologically, and spiritually.
Stacey Conard and her husband Mark have been involved in trauma healing first-hand. Mark joined the Marines, and later became a chaplain, to have a ministry within the military. They also served as missionaries in Zambia, have lived in Kenya to support other missionaries and do trauma healing with refugees from South Sudan, and recently have been working with Ukrainian soldiers and refugees who have fled the war there.
But in an unexpected twist, the most difficult trauma healing had to happen in their own home.
This is an interview well worth your time.
The Trauma Healing Institute developed the program and curriculum that Mark and Stacey use with refugees in South Sudan and soldiers in Ukraine. And it is available to individuals and churches in America as well. We all know people who have experienced trauma, or have experienced it ourselves.
Trauma is a deep wound of the heart and mind that takes a long time to heal. It hurts every part of us: our relationships, our bodies, our thoughts, and our faith.
This is computer generated. Expect a few errors.
An Interview with Stacey Conard – S01E07
|Hello, friends. My name is Rob Webster, and thanks for listening today. I talked to my friend Stacy Conard about trauma healing. This is episode seven of The Story that Writes Us. Stacy Conard is a friend of mine from college, and as soon as we were graduating from college, Stacy met a man named Mark. And Mark was joining the Marines.
|He later became a Marine chaplain. And the two of them together have been doing some important trauma healing work. They’ve lived in a number of different places around the world. They lived in Nairobi, Kenya, for a season when they were doing trauma healing work in South Sudan. They’ve been working with Ukrainian soldiers recently and doing trauma healing work there.
|And our conversation took a surprising turn when I learned how trauma had come to their own family and the healing that they needed to do. I really appreciate Stacey taking the time to talk with me. It’s a fascinating interview, and I think she has a lot of important things to say, not just about storytelling, but also listening to stories and how important that is to bring about healing.
Here’s my interview with Stacey Conard.
Take me back in time, back to probably, what was it, our senior year of college when you met Mark? He was planning on going into the Marines to be a chaplain. That was his that was his intent. And to he he felt called to ministry and called to that ministry in particular. Is that right?
|Yeah. Well, he wasn’t he couldn’t be a chaplain then because he didn’t have a seminary degree or anything. So, you know, back then, his idea was the the military was the mission field. Everything is, right? So he he just decided one day that and he had just graduated and he from college and he decided that he needed to do something different.
|And he prayed. And he actually called recruiters. He called the Army and they said, OK, well, we’ll send you to come in and do business. And then he called the Marines and they said, we’ll be right over. Wow. So they actually came to his house with the paperwork, and he signed up.
|So he when I met him, he had he had already signed the papers. And he was leaving pretty soon after that for boot camp. But he enlisted and became an enlisted Marine, and off he went. But we met right before that. It was funny because, you know, we never really dated. You remember that? Because like, I met him through my sister and then we talked a lot and we wrote letters and then he said, I just want you to know you’re the girl I want to marry.
|And, oh, by the way, I leave in six weeks or boot camp, you know?
|Wow. So I don’t I don’t. Yeah, I don’t I, I didn’t remember that. I didn’t remember how you met him and what that connection was. I do remember being surprised when you, when you told me about him, and I was like, oh, OK.
|Who is this.
|Guy? Yeah, well, but I. But I remember you, so appreciated his his faith and his heart for for really doing God’s work. I just remember that really meant a lot to you.
|Yeah. It sounded like I get a big adventure. And so off he went. He went to boot camp and all that. And basically, we are like. He came home the day before we got married. We got married, moved to California because he was stationed out at Camp Pendleton. And five months later, he was off to Somalia. And on his first deployment and it was like that for four years.
|I’m on a deployment, and that was I had never been that far away from home.
|There it was. I had to learn a lot. The hard way.
|And quickly he was deployed to Somalia and where else?
|Well, see, back then, he was in Somalia and Iraq.
|And Jordan. Four years later, he got out and we we and we had in our mind, we wanted to go we went to serve and we wanted to serve overseas. And so he went to seminary and finished that. And then at the end of that, we were sent to Gambia. And we we were there for six years.
|And what kind of work were you doing in Zambia?
|Well, we were in church planting. Well, I should say he was. Yes, I’m not trying to just, you know, just be. Yes.
|No, I know what you’re saying.
|His title was Church Planter. My title got to be Church and Home Evangelism, because they didn’t allow the women to be church planters. But the reality was I learned the language faster than he did. And and I loved Bible story and so did Mark. But I was kind of more of a natural with it because of the language.
|And so I was able to go out to a couple of places and and plant churches and and that was fun. And it was wonderful that I had a husband who, you know, believed in me enough to support me to do that.
|So that that was a really sweet time in your life, would you say? It sounds like it was a it was an yes, it was.
|It was hard. We got malaria. We we lost the baby. You know what happened? We made some lifelong friends that we start with. And you suffer together. You not only Zambians, but also other missionaries. And that’s actually where we first started to think about caring for people who were serving overseas in missions in and humanitarian work and all that, because we we were helped so much by people who that was their calling.
|And I don’t know if we would have made it through some of the hard things that we went through. We did not have pastoral caregivers, people coming along the side of us, like even would come out to visit us where we live. And it wasn’t comfortable. But they came. They were present. It meant a lot, kept us there.
|As the Conards came towards the end of their six year stint as missionaries in Zambia, the United States was active in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. A Marine friend of Mark’s reached out to him and said that there was a desperate need for good military chaplains. So Mark re-enlisted as an officer. This time he came in as a lieutenant in the Navy.
|Navy chaplains also serve in the Marines, Stacy explains.
|If you’re a Navy chaplain, you can be stationed with whomever. And so first we were sent to a Naval construction battalion. He went to Iraq with them, had a couple deployments with them, and then later we were with a Marine battalion. And then he really found this field. But that’s also when he went to Afghanistan.
|He would say he says that Afghanistan was a it was the kicker so to speak. It was the hardest. Yeah, Iraq was hard. But there was he said there wasn’t anything like Afghanistan. And he he was out a lot like in forward operating areas. He would – I’m glad he didn’t tell me this at the time. He would hike out to places with his Rp. RP is the religious programmer.
|It’s like the assistant to the chaplain who the chaplain doesn’t carry a weapon, but the r.p. And they they go together. So you know, I used to he’s is our piece. They’re his bodyguard and they really were. Yeah. Super duper as they would go out, you know, hike across the mountains in Afghanistan to places where the Marines were embedded.
|Maybe there just be a few here and there. And I I was always glad he told me about that after he got back to the base and that’s where he was going. But yeah, that’s really stressful to do that. And they there their battalion had some losses and you know, I think you just get in it and you’re the chaplain and you you’re you’re helping these, these guys and gals, they go out.
|They, they experienced, you know, a lot of stress you’re hearing all and just receiving them when they come in and help them change out of their bloody clothes, whatever, holding them when they cry I mean, I’ll never forget those guys would me and I say guys, but I mean guys and gals that I will never forget. When they came back to Camp Lejeune after that deployment, we had a memorial service for a couple that are the ones that didn’t make it back and walking.
|And it was so different. Like when I saw them off and they were all, you know, they’re just young, they’re just kids. They’re 18, 19, 20 smile and laughing, you know, after go they come back seven, eight months later, we’re walking into a memorial service and they just, just their eyes you just see that they’re not the same.
|And it was hard to know that those kids were changed like that.
|I can’t imagine then as you guys felt the call, not just Mark, but about you to, to, to minister to people, how do you, how do you help people find God in the midst of that? I mean, I can’t imagine that burden. I wouldn’t really know where to begin.
|Yeah. Well, I mean, you know what? The first thing I learned was you never preach at people, and and you don’t try to spiritualized their pain. You you sit with them in their pain. That’s how they find God is you are present with them and they’re suffering, and that’s hard. And sometimes you want to run away it’s hard to go and sit in people’s darkness because some of that gets on you but it’s necessary.
|It’s necessary for them to heal, and it’s necessary I think, for us to know who God really is.
|And I just think there’s so much about that, about just sitting with people in their pain. And you’re I guess you’re entering into entering into their story. You know, you’re stepping into a story, and some stories are happy stories. But I’m sure for them to have somebody enter into their story with them, just to know that there’s somebody there must be an incredible comfort.
|You know, on the flip side, when we found ourselves hurting, it’s what we most wanted was for someone to be willing to step into our story, as messy as it was in and stay. And that’s the thing. Can you stay in somebody pain.
|Another ministry, I guess, after after that deployment and Mark wrapped up that season in his career and you all were working in South Sudan. Is that where you went first or tell me tell me how that came about?
|We decided our time in the military was over about seven years and that we were back in. It’s 211 total. And we we started just prayerfully looking around talking to some different mission groups and see what they had going on and where and and we finally found a group I am who we are with now. We talked to them.
|It really looked like a good fit. We would live in Nairobi, Kenya. We had at that point because in the military we adopted our son Josiah and then we had our four other biological children and so five children we were going to move to Nairobi, which we felt good about because it wasn’t living in the bush again. The kids were happy.
|There’s Internet and we supported. Yes. And we would serve a really large team that there were we had three bases in South Sudan at that time, and we would serve that really large team. So we would travel in and out of South Sudan to visit and support them. And then they would rotate into Nairobi every eight weeks to get supplies and rest.
|So that that was our role. So to be chaplains for them.
|So chaplains for the missionaries who were there. Is that right?
|Yeah. Yeah. Which we were we loved it. We loved the whole idea of that. And we saw a lot of crossover between military and and missionaries actually kind of the means. And so we were pretty excited about this idea. And we both loved chaplaincy because chaplaincy is about presence and it’s about going where people are. You don’t wait for them to come to you.
|You look at Ministry of Presence.
|In addition to working with those missionaries you are we’re also a part of some other trauma healing things that were going on in South Sudan. Is that right? Can you tell me a little bit about that?
|Yeah, that’s when I first got introduced to the Trauma Healing Institute program, because our team was our team had been evacuated and and we were all they were all in Nairobi and I had found out about this Mark, and I’d actually taken some training in Nairobi through the Trauma Healing Institute. So I invited the team to come do it, too.
|And then we we took that and started working with some of the refugees from South Sudan who had come in. A lot of them were highly traumatized that we started having small groups with them and just to help them support them, giving them some Bible based trauma care as they kind of work through their own hard stories. I started to see then how the church could be an answer to trauma how they could respond in a way that was healing and helpful.
|And then just to hear people’s stories about just to hear them express how telling their story and having someone listen to them for the first time took a huge weight off of them. And some of the stories were horrible. I mean, I still remember them, but I had to sit and be willing to carry on for that person.
|So then it and sharing it did light it for them and it made them want to go and do that for somebody else.
|And it made it heavier for you too. I’m sure. Like you said, you get some of that on you.
|You do I was drawn to learn about trauma, I think because of what was going on in our family. When Mark came back from Afghanistan, that he and I both knew that something wasn’t right. I really and he he will say this very openly now. It’s like a stranger came home. But our answer was we well, we kept going to like another year and a half in the military and then we’ll get away from the military.
|So we will leave and we’ll do what we love to do, what God called us to a long time ago. So back we hand in here. We’re serving this team now in Nairobi, in Kenya, in South Sudan, I had just come back from South Sudan like the day before and work. And I went to we were going to the mall.
|It was our son’s birthday. The next day we were going to get this game for him and we were going to have a coffee date. So we headed out on the kids were headed to Westgate Mall. We’ll be back later. And we got almost we only lived in just a few miles from the mall we got almost there in March.
|And I really don’t want to go there. It’s going to be crowded. Can we go to another mall on the other end of town? And I heard myself say, sure, really? I was wanting to say, no, I want to go to this really nice mall, you know, and but I could hear myself say, OK. And we went right at the roundabout instead of left.
|We went to this other place. We sat and had our coffee. We did not know that at that same time, the terrorists had come through the parking garage through our cafe, coffee shop in Westgate Mall and were killing people. There were, I think it’s 69 people killed and over 200 injured and it was horrible. It went on for four days, this siege on the mall.
|And we from where we live, we could hear it. We eventually we got home. Our kids thought the whole time that we were there and until well, a couple of hours they thought we were there.
|Oh my gosh.
|Yeah. Because we couldn’t get through on the phones because of course, the phone lines were all packed with people trying to call loved ones and all this. They knew something bad was going on. And then after that, oh, my goodness, it was all over the news. Anywhere you can you could hear whatever. Plus we could hear the whole thing because we lived only a few miles away.
|So we could hear explosions. We could hear gunfire all the stuff for four days so it was really stressful, especially to one of our daughters who just I don’t know people. What I know now is that there’s often no rhyme or reason to why somebody experiences a like a traumatic stress injury.
|She ended up with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. Eventually, it it was a huge trigger for Mark. I mean, suddenly all of this just came out and came to the forefront. He was super hyper alert all the time, couldn’t risk always looking for exits everywhere we went, making plans. And it was just all the things I don’t know.
|I feel like, you know, Rob, it’s like we were just marinating in trauma and we could see he was a chaplain. He’d helped Marines who had post-traumatic stress injury. He’d helped them, and he knew what it looked like, but he could see it in himself. And I don’t know if it was partly we didn’t want to know. We want to think that it was us.
|It’s a little ironic when you’re the caregivers, like you’re the pastoral care people, you’re the chaplain, and you end up with a post-traumatic stress injury you just don’t want to believe that. You just want to keep going. And so we tried, but eventually you know, our marriage was in ruins in our family. It was it was awful. We you know, we didn’t know how we tried to go to a counselor for help.
|We tried three counselors. They all tried to give us marriage counseling. And Mark Wood, this was after we finally came home he would go he would sit out in the parking lot at the counselor after we went and he would cry in the car. He’d just weep and say, it’s not you, it’s me. And they can’t help me.
|And I just could see he was we were our daughter was getting help, but we he wasn’t getting help. We weren’t getting help because we didn’t know what to do with it. And we were afraid to tell anybody because we’re missionaries. Right. So who do you tell when these awful things are happening in your family, in your home?
|I couldn’t take it anymore. And I, I knew one of two things was going to happen. He was either going to, he was going to do something to himself or hurt himself because he hated himself so much. He hated the explosion. He hated the verbal abuse and and the things. He just. He felt so out of control. You know, a normal angry response is like, OK, you blow up, you know, it goes up I think, you know, living with somebody with with PTSD, it’s like shrapnel.
|It goes straight out in all directions. People say that PTSD is contagious. And it is because you you’re secondarily traumatized by living with somebody with PTSD. And so that’s what our whole family was kind of just living in that and I, I wanted to get help. I’m going to get help for us. I’m going to get help for my heart.
|My biggest fear was if I tell somebody again and realize this isn’t who he is, you know, because it sounds like he’s a monster, but he’s not. And I knew he needed help and I didn’t want them to just treat him like oh, he’s he’s abusing his family. You know, he’s a terrible person. I wanted to tell so we could get help.
|That’s why I wanted to tell our stories to get help.
|At the end of the day when I couldn’t take it anymore. And I just thought, I’m either going to leave with the kids or you know, he’s going to hurt himself. So we called our pastor friend, and he said the best word. And I mean, Mark really held on to this. He told Mark he loved him. He said, I love you.
|I’m going to be here for you. And this does not define you.
|And that we he just kept going back to that later because we then took the next step and told some other people in our Christian community and it did not go well. Oh, that is not the response we got from them. Just there was just a sense of that he was damaged goods. And and then also that I was your typical abused wife who was just so emotionally unhealthy.
|I actually had somebody tell me that I couldn’t be trusted to take care of my children or make good decisions for them. Because I hadn’t they said I hadn’t so far made the decisions. And I felt like, you know, I’ve done the best I can to hold my family together and.
|What a slap in the face. Oh, my God. I’m kind of happy. You know, you’re removed from this, but I’m kind of angry for you right now. Just hearing that story.
|It was it was hard. And now I’m just kind of being treated like we were fake, you know, like, oh, you’ve been hiding this who you really are. Whatever. And and my thought was, no, we’ve been surviving. And and now we’ve told you we finally found a we found a therapist, a trauma therapist who looked at us and said, you can go, Stacy, this isn’t a marriage from.
|And he looked at Mark and said, I can help you and Mark cried. And I did, too. We were so relieved. And he did help us. I mean, it took a couple of years, and Mark did the hard work he did the hard work. He went every week. He did EMDR therapy he just he did the hard work and it paid off big time.
|But in the meantime, those two years were just like hell for us as a family. We had family members that it just was hard. They couldn’t walk through that with us. And and we had we lost a lot of friends we were told that we might lose our missionary status.
|Which means that you were told you might lose your job, right?
|Yes. Yes. We were basically told you just stay with the process and we’ll see what happens at the end. And and when we asked what’s the process, they just would just say, well, we’ll see. We’ll see. So it just wasn’t handled well. And I say that. And we’re still you know, we’re still with our organization. And the reason is I think they learned something.
|I hate to say that we were the guinea pigs, but and I wanted to leave like so many times. And Mark kept saying, God’s not gonna leave and somehow he’s going to redeem this. And I’ll look back on it now, like several years later, and I’ll say this. It has he’s given us tools to help other people that we would never have had before if we didn’t in an understanding that we would never, ever have before if we had not walked through it ourselves.
|So now we we advocate for trauma informed care, for missionaries, for church people in the church or with I work with humanitarian organizations, India aid groups. I don’t care who you are. I want you to know about trauma and I want your care for your people to be trauma informed as well as like communities in the world. I want churches all around the world to know about trauma so they can help people.
|A couple of hours after our interview, I got an email from Stacy, and I promised her that I would read it. It said this, Rob, I thought of something important that I want to say. I can’t believe I forgot because it made all the difference. There was one couple who listened to our story and did not turn away from us.
|They just loved us. They stayed for the whole ugly journey, never criticized or judged us, sat with us in our hurt and anger and pain, cried with us. They stayed when no one else did. It made all the difference. I don’t think we could have made it without them.
|Trauma. People can recover from trauma but they need community to do it and the church is the place. Diane Leper. Dr Dan Lindbergh says trauma is the mission field and it is so I would say churches get trained. The Trauma Healing Institute of the American Bible study, they have an amazing program called Healing the Wounds of Trauma and they and I’m a facilitator for them, but we train people in communities all over the world, including the U.S. We train people in churches and communities about trauma.
|So people are wounded. I mean, people are wounded with wounds that we can’t see. They’re invisible, but they’re every bit as wounded as the person who lost a limb or was shot. And it affects every part of us. Even our part, even our faith part.
|Mark went through this therapy and you went through some as well. And your daughter too, with her therapy. So where are you guys now?
|Hey, we’re a therapy family. We we are believers in good therapy. Marketers still our chaplains and I do a lot of crisis response like disaster response. And I believe in therapy and I go to therapy. Mark, actually, he also started some medication which really helped him like all of it together was he kind of had a multifaceted approach to treatment.
|And it it has made a world a world of difference for him. And now the great thing is he’s able to go back and talk to veterans. He’s talked to first responders, like all kinds of people who might otherwise not relate to somebody, but he’s able to relate to some of those folks that other people can’t. And when he says, I went to therapy, I’m a believer in it and I take I even take medication.
|And it helps kind of lift the stigma. When you when you see some big guy like my husband, you know, he’s not afraid to say, yeah, I’ve been broken. Trauma is healing. Community and you can’t have community if you don’t find a way to share your story and be honest with each other and transparent about what hurts you.
|You can’t have community.
|And so that’s that’s profound. It really is. It community’s just superficial until, you know, until you reach that point that you can share on that level with people.
|And it’s hard and I’ll say this like, I, I don’t, I’m very careful what I tell hurting people. I tell them to be sure with safe people that it may be that you don’t tell a lot of folks about your, your story. Maybe you just are very choosy. You know, at first and but find that one safe person to start with and tell them somebody that can hold your story and tell them that’s the first step to to healing.
|I think the work you’re doing is is so important. And you guys are the kind of people who’ve go down in the pit and go down in the trenches with people. And you’re doing work in Ukraine right now. But really, wherever there’s a need, you’ve been to so many different places in the world so if people can people join your team financially if they want to support the work you’re doing?
|Because I think it’s amazing work that you’re doing.
|Thank you. Of course, we can. Thank you for that. Program. Of course I can’t because we can’t do it if people don’t. And we really, really appreciate our partners.
|At the website for this. A story that right to WSJ.com, I’m going to put in the show notes for this. I’ll put a link. I would be really happy if we came away from this and you got more financial support for what you’re doing. The other thing that makes me really happy is that churches and individuals, we just have a better understanding of trauma and how to respond to it as I see it in people.
|And I can’t thank you enough until tell Mark thank you to and it just means so much to me that he was he was willing to let you share some painful parts of your story with with this audience. And like I said, there’s a risk in that. So thank you for trusting this this group and and tell him thank you so much.
|You’ll continue to be in my prayers. And I love you guys in the ministry that you have. So thank you for sharing your story.
|Thank you. Thank you.
|So I’ve got another episode coming out next week, but then after that, I’ll be putting a pause on the weekly release schedule of the podcast. I’m going to be going on vacation, but oh, I’ve got some good interviews coming up with some fascinating people I can’t wait to introduce you to. So good stuff is coming. Y’all the story that right.
|This is part of the Adult Discipleship Ministries at Custer Road United Methodist Church in Plano, Texas. Thank you for listening.