Today, I interview Ruth Stitt. Growing up in Connecticut, Ruth notes that she was one of the fortunate ones. Her parents encouraged her and her siblings to explore the world and learn as much as possible. There was lots of travel, education, and trying new things. She was the youngest of three siblings, and the older two grew further and further away from her during school years.
Because of this gap, Ruth was often the only child at home, watching her parents’ marriage dissolve and unfortunately becoming her mother’s confidant, listening to her vent her frustrations as she poured another drink. Ruth did well in school, but she did spend her teenage years embodying the stereotypical hippie child: the pot, the long hair, the vegetarianism, and the love for music.
She ended up in New York, attending college and getting a music degree. During that time, her dearest friend made a shift in her own life. She went from lost and addicted to, somehow, a faith-filled Christian. Ruth watched this transformation before her own eyes and slowly began to feel things shift inside her. She had begun attending the famous Riverside Church for reasons she’s still unsure of. She began studying the Bible and soon fell in love with God.
Her family couldn’t relate to her seemingly sudden transformation, and she couldn’t understand why it had taken her so long to make such a discovery. She had to learn new ways to use her voice to share her faith without over stressing her relationships with people of different beliefs. As time passed, Ruth began ministry, found her husband, and started her family. She became a counselor and minister, and for more than thirty years has been working with diverse populations to bring help and hope.
At this stage of life, Ruth is focused mostly on writing and music, and speaking to individuals and groups about the Scriptures and how they come to life in our daily experiences. She thanks God every day for His goodness in her life.
Ruth Stitt has been a licensed therapist for 30 years, while also performing as a jazz musician, raising a family, teaching, and volunteering in a variety of churches and parachurch ministries. She has been a blogger for the last four years, and recently released her first self-published book, Scripture Comes to Life: Reflections on Biblical Wisdom in Everyday Experience. Having recently retired from full-time clinical work, Ruth is now enjoying the life of a writer and musician in the beautiful hill country of central Texas.
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Transcript of Interview
Transcript of Interview
Find Your Voice, Change Your Life Podcast
Podcast Host: Dr. Doreen Downing
Free Guide to Fearless Speaking: Doreen7steps.com
Episode #76 Ruth Stitt
“Love God, Love People, and Be Yourself”
(00:36) Dr. Doreen Downing
Hi, I’m Dr. Doreen Downing and I’m a psychologist and host of the Find Your Voice, Change Your Life podcast. What I do when I invite people I know is that I’m curious about their life. How did they get to be who they are? What were the struggles and challenges along the way? The reason why I focus on voice is because that’s what we have every single day. That’s what we bring to our life, our voice. It’s not always easy. So, I invite people to talk about how it wasn’t easy as a start. Today, I get to introduce to you my new friend, Ruth Stitt. Hi, Ruth.
(01:28) Ruth Stitt
Hi, Doreen. Thank you.
(01:30) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes, you are welcome. Well, you wrote a bio, and I would like to read it because it I think there’s some things that are highlighted that will show up in our interview today. It’s always good to know what you’ve been up to, so I’ll read it. Ruth Stitt has been a licensed therapist for 30 years, while also performing as a jazz musician, raising a family, teaching, and volunteering in a variety of churches and parachurch ministries. She has been a blogger. A blogger, that’s a lot of writing, isn’t it? She has been a blogger for the last four years and recently released her first self-published book, Scripture Comes to Life, Reflections on Biblical Wisdom in Everyday Experience. Having recently retired from full-time clinical work, Ruth is now enjoying the life of a writer and musician in the beautiful hill country of Central Texas. I am so thrilled to get to know you. This is all new to me. Even new to me is that Central Texas has a hill country.
(02:56) Ruth Stitt
It sure does. The whole area between Austin and San Antonio is referred to as hilly and kind of wild-looking, rural, and beautiful.
(03:09) Dr. Doreen Downing
I like those words, “rural”, and “wild”.
(03:13) Ruth Stitt
Well, we were talking about textures before the recording started, and that’s something I love about this area, the textures of it, the environment here.
(03:26) Dr. Doreen Downing
Well, you and I share having been therapists for many, many years here. I know that we’ve had our own personal journey because that’s part of what becoming a therapist is about, being able to clean up our own inner terrain so that we can open ourselves up and listen more deeply to people. So, that listening, to me, is one of the things that I feel like is already with you in our conversation. I feel like we’re deep listeners.
(04:02) Ruth Stitt
Absolutely. Yes. My undergraduate degree is in music and so I learned to be listener. If I got lost in the flow of the music, I learned that what you need to do is just pause for a minute and listen to what’s going on, and then you can find your way back to where you are, or you need to go to the next. So, that has also translated into my work as a therapist. Of course, learning to listen in a specific way, that’s different from everyday kind of listening.
(04:51) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes. I love the way you described it because it sounded actually like a wonderful, deep, profound, and spiritual truth about coming back to ourselves but knowing when we are wandering away and listening to ourselves. What I also heard is there’s a way back to what’s inside of ourselves, our grounded being. I guess you might say, well, I know that I want to talk more about this. But I always like to get out as soon as we can, more of what was the challenge. What was the struggle? Because what you wrote to me sounded like speaking wasn’t such a challenge as a younger person. But if you could just give us a few details about early life where you grew up in the family, and if there were any challenges.
(05:50) Ruth Stitt
Oh, yes, of course, there were some. It’s pouring rain, so hopefully, we won’t have any weather issues with our connection here. So, I grew up in Connecticut, and I have really, really good parents. I’ve listened to some of your conversations with people who had just all kinds of trauma in early childhood, and that was not my experience at all. In fact, when I think about my early childhood up through maybe the middle of elementary school, I was actually very, very enriched. My parents were both college-educated, and avid readers. They loved music and art and culture. We travelled a lot. We went to interesting restaurants. They were very much about being open to experience, to all kinds of experience. I have an older brother, and an older sister, so I was the baby, and any time we expressed an interest in something that we wanted to learn or pursue, they were very quick to give those opportunities. In some ways, it was kind of a magical time, my childhood was very— I had a lot of freedom to run around the neighborhood and make up things with my best friend. So, in those early years, I felt very loved, and protected, and valued. My parents have been dead and gone for quite a while now, but I still think so often about my life today, and how much it was just enriched by starting out in that way.
Things started to become darker though toward the end of elementary school and into junior high in high school, because my parents had a lot in common, but emotionally, they just could not figure out how to really meet each other’s needs or accept each other for who they were, and especially my mom was always just so frustrated and unhappy with my father and so she started drinking heavily, gained a lot of weight, and she was just miserable for a while. My being the youngest, by the time I got into my high school years, my sister was gone at college, my brother had moved on long ago. And so, I was kind of the ever-attentive kind of co-dependent child watching this scenario unfold and nobody was talking about it. Nobody was addressing it. There wasn’t any therapy. There wasn’t any talk about recovery or sobriety or family counselling. It just was never discussed. I had always been kind of creative and introspective. My sister, my older sister, my only sister, she came out of the womb with the bigger, louder personality, and my temperament has always been quieter, more studious, and more spiritual I guess, but then also her influence, because I love to hang around with her and her friends, whether consciously or not, probably not consciously, I made a decision that if I were going to have a voice or if I were going to shine in some areas, it would be in very different ways from her.
(10:29) Dr. Doreen Downing
Already the scene that you’ve painted, yes, it came a lot early on in life and then the challenge—It was a different era for women and couples in married life. We’re way more conscious nowadays and there are way more resources. But I know this was probably a while ago, maybe in the 50s or so.
(10:58) Ruth Stitt
Well, no. I came of age and graduated from high school in 1978. I was born in 1960, so that tells you my generation. I grew up, in my family, as not religious at all. I would say secular humanists. My father was Jewish, ethnically Jewish, but not a practicing Jew. My mom took us to church, but it was mainly because of the community and the music. She was an organist and choir director and she just loved spiritual music. Her father was a Presbyterian minister, and I don’t know what happened, but she despised him, and I think it really turned her away from that. So, I became just the consummate hippie child, wonderful long hair, hairy-legged, vegetarian, transcendental meditating, yoga person, guitar player. I hit all the points of being a good little hippie girl throughout my teenage years, pot smoke and the whole thing.
(12:29) Dr. Doreen Downing
This was in Connecticut?
(12:32) Ruth Stitt
(12:35) Dr. Doreen Downing
What a fabulous unfolding of your story to follow you through the ages like this. And yes, high school was a little bit of challenge finding yourself, and it seemed like you’re differentiating yourself out as a, putting quotes around it, I guess, “hippie”, and just really immersing yourself in that environment. And yes, you’re right. There was a lot of coming of age and coming awareness in our society and what was wrong about it, or just pointing to the stuff with the war and so I can see where you got to next. Anything else about that high school period and how you were expressing yourself?
(13:41) Ruth Stitt
Through music, and I was already a journaler and a writer. I would come home from school and just put on my brother or my sisters’ albums, and I would listen to music and draw. I just became even more introspective and creative. And I guess that was how I continued to find ways of expressing myself, and just spent a whole lot more time away from the house and away from the sadness and drama of that and spent more time with friends. There was one incident that I thought you might find interesting. I went to public school. My sister wasn’t thriving in public school. She went to this elite private school. At one point, I have no recollection of how this has happened, but I have done a paper on the Kent State massacre, the four students that were killed, and I was invited to go to her school for some reason and do this presentation for one of her classes. So, that came to my mind because I thought, did I have a voice? Apparently, I did, because somebody recognize that maybe this work that I had done— They put me in front of an audience. I have no idea why. So, in childhood, the main thing was that when it comes to feeling kind of constricted, would be just the home situation.
(15:42) Dr. Doreen Downing
One of the things I’m getting though in terms of you finding the voice within through creativity is a lot of times, when I speak with people who are in that more challenging family situation, especially when one of the parents seems to be alcoholic, you take on, like you say, like a co-dependent. But I don’t hear that you were so much trying to save your mother or take care of her that you really looked within more. That seems likely. Is that true?
(16:22) Ruth Stitt
Yes, I was very much her confidant, and she, unfortunately, did that thing that we therapists plead with people not to do. Don’t bring your kids into your marital drama. Don’t be talking about the other parent because it’s just hard. It’s not a good thing to do. I was the only one there, so she did do that a lot. And I didn’t know anything about addictions. At that point, I was just there, and this was my mom, and she was hurting, and so I would listen to her gripe and carry on sometimes, and just coped with it, I guess as you say, just continuing to pursue things that were interesting to me.
(17:22) Dr. Doreen Downing
I’m thinking that there’s a connection between what you were allowed younger in life. This kind of support for the diversity of interests that you had, that was already in place inside of you. That it’s okay to explore and you had that early on. You already valued what whatever you can do to go into new arenas. The inside is vast, so it’s a great place to explore.
(18:00) Ruth Stitt
I’ve told people over the years that what I got, what I got from my mom was that I was absolutely unconditionally loved by her. For my father, I got that my father thinks that I’m smart. And that was, that was huge. My father thinks that I’m smart. That has carried me through so many things that even when I drifted into things, like I always had this sense that he wouldn’t, he wouldn’t cast me out he wouldn’t. Because somehow, he communicated to me that no matter what happened, he trusted that I figure it out. My father thinks that I’m smart.
(18:51) Dr. Doreen Downing
I like that empowerment and how you took that for your own self-esteem. I don’t hear that so much. So, it’s nice that you felt it. So, you’re moving on in life, and I think that, to me, is where it seems, from my reading your book and also listening to you, is where you started to find a new voice, a new calling. That was the talent. So, let’s go there now.
(19:38) Ruth Stitt
Yes. Wonderful. So my hippie background and my non-religious background are important to set up this next phase because my college years were very tumultuous and I just was kind of lost and I thought I was going to be a scientist at first, then I wound up doing a lot of writing, and poetry, and music, and by the time I graduated from college, I wound up getting a degree in jazz guitar and vocal performance, of all things. During that time, I was living in New York City. One of my friends, before I got really connected with her, I don’t remember why, I lived on the Upper West Side, and I started walking up to Riverside Church. It’s a famous large church on the Upper West Side of New York City, and I started attending services there. I think I was just curious. I think I liked the building and the majesty of it all. Something was drawing me to it. Shortly after that, one of my musician friends in school, who had just been very dysregulated, and on drugs, she’s Dominican, just this delightful Dominican woman. We used to call her the manic Hispanic. She called herself that, the manic Hispanic. So, I saw her reconnect with some of her Christian friends, and she just had this transformation. She just became clear-eyed, and healthy, and sane. The combination of those things really led me into a soul season of learning to study the Bible. And as I learned to study the Bible, I started to become familiar with the characters of the Bible, most notably Jesus Christ. And so, I fell hard. I fell hard in love with God at that time, and I was pretty radical.
(22:11) Ruth Stitt
I think that’s something that has been observed that people who grow up in a strong religious setting, often just— It’s just always there, so they may just take it for granted. For me, I felt like with all of this learning that I’ve done, all my schooling, all of this openness to experience, how come nobody ever shared this with me? My parents, if they were here, would tell you that Ruth never did anything a little way, so I didn’t do this in a little way either. I was part of a ministry that had a program where you could go— They could dispatch you to some other part of the country, and you could spend a year studying and leading Bible studies and doing the work of an evangelist, so I did that and wound up in Midland, Texas. To get to the voice part of that story, what I did in relation to my family dynamic, I broke the rule. I broke a rule because we’re all lifelong learners. You’re always supposed to be reading new things, having new experiences, considering all sorts of ideas, but you’re never supposed to pick one, and put all of your faith in it. Because then, the idea is that if you say I’m a Bible-believing Christian now, then what are you? What are you excluding? What are you excluding from that picture?
(24:19) Dr. Doreen Downing
I could see that it might look like excluding, but I think in your frame, it was including, it was the opposite.
(24:30) Ruth Stitt
It was just opening up a whole new world, but it was very hard. My family had no frame of reference to really understand what I was going through at that time, so I gave them a lot of grace. And I know that I was probably really obnoxious. I probably still have some comments toward people that I was so adamant, and I was so sure, or that I’d found something that was right that I was probably often foolish and presumptuous with people. That’s when I knew I was going to have this opportunity to converse with you, that was kind of the main core of where I saw that I really had to struggle to just navigate through that. It took a while to understand that when I’m with my family, I can still love them, and they can still love me, I can share with them my experience, and they may or may not relate to any of it, but it doesn’t have to break our relationship. But it was a struggle for me internally to show up and be myself, and yet not be offending people all the time.
(26:11) Dr. Doreen Downing
Wow, that encapsulates it right there. Show up, be yourself, and not the offensive. And as an evangelist, I know sometimes it is the stereotype. So, I could see early on the thrill of finding something and wanting to share it and help transform. And so, this whole idea about breaking a rule. And it seems like that’s what you did as a hippie, so that was already— But this rule of the family, don’t choose one thing. So, my goodness. All right. Again, we’re still unfolding you and your voice, but what I just heard was, how do you not make other people wrong, or who they are, what their beliefs are, and yet stick to what is so inspiring for you.
(27:15) Ruth Stitt
Yes. The next part of the story was my father almost sent a deep programmer out to find me in West Texas and bring me back home because that’s how concerned they were. But then I met the man who was to become my husband, and we’ve been together for 35 years. I met him in Midland. I actually witnessed to him at the bar of the bowling alley. I approached him and asked him if he ever read the Bible. That’s how we met. He was a hard-working, more conventional kind of person, and had a son already from his first marriage. When we wound up together, I think it helped my family to see like, oh, she’s finally doing something that makes some kind of sense. So, then I settled into life, became a little bit more domesticated, a little less wild. We started our family. We moved to Houston.
(28:42) Ruth Stitt
That was the period of time when I felt the call to go to school and get a counseling degree. I enrolled at University of Houston, Clear Lake. I’m still very serious about the Bible and about my faith, but UH Clear Lake is about as secular humanist a program as you’re going to find. And so, throughout that program, another aspect of navigating, finding my voice, when to speak, when to be quiet, was in integrating the psychology and the counseling principles that I was learning with the principles of my faith. There were times when I’d be in a class, psychopathology, or something, and I would make a comment. I remember the professor talking about people who say that they hear from God, or they speak to God, that that could be a symptom of psychosis, which it could be. Many people in mental institutions think that they’re Jesus Christ, or hearing voices. But I would make a comment that there are lots of precedent for people who are very spiritually sensitive to hear God speak to them and form them. They have an ongoing conversation with their higher power, so to speak. I’d be leaving the classroom and other students would come up to me and they’d say, I’m so glad you said that, because I believe the same thing, but I really need an A in this class, and I don’t know how she feels about all that. Well, whatever, I got an A in the class anyway.
(30:55) Dr. Doreen Downing
What a story to feel the boldness of your voice coming out, and other people acknowledging you for that. You got to know you’re on the right path. So, what else about then I get that everything is more integrated for you as you enter more into adulthood and your profession. This blog that you’ve talked about, being able to write, this whole idea about scriptures and stories and the people we hear about in our Bible studies classes, it feels like what you do is bring them more to life. Shall we move into— Is there something before we get there?
(31:57) Ruth Stitt
Well, as I started to finish my degree and launch into my counseling career, from being in the field for a long time too. I wasn’t working in a religious environment for the most part. So, you take the people that come, and you take them as they come. If you’re going to be a good ethical therapist, you don’t pre-judge people, on the basis of any aspect of them, their gender, or their sexual orientation. It just took me a while to get to where I’ll talk to anybody. I’ll have at least one conversation with somebody. If I decide that I’m not the right person to continue the conversation, I’ll let them know. But I’ll have a first session with anybody, and just have that attitude of here’s a human being that I don’t know. Tell me about you. What’s going on? Just maintaining that curiosity. I have a very curious mind. So, at this point, I’ve continued to really pursue scripture deeply and be involved in churches and I instantly became a worship leader when I became a Christian, because I was already a musician and singer. So, I had all these tracks going at the same time.
(33:40) Ruth Stitt
I’m raising my family. When my son, my youngest, graduated from high school, I then felt like I could really devote— I could go back to school again. And where I’m from, in my family, you keep learning till you die. I saw a program, a seminary program at Grand Canyon University. So, I enrolled in that and in 2017, I got my Master of Divinity. So now I have the music, I have the music, I have the counselling, and I have now a theology degree. When I graduated, and I got formally ordained to the ministry, I really felt like I wanted to start— I had done so much writing in school and have really honed my skills as a writer. I said, I’m just going to keep writing. I’m going to keep my Wednesday night writing deadline, and I’ll keep writing. A friend of mine is a coach. I had a session with him, and he said, start a blog, and that way you’ll always have an outlet for your thoughts. I was working on a book at that time. He said, keep working on your book because that sounds really cool too, but write a blog, and then you’ll always have a platform to share your work. Then when you have a book that’s ready, maybe you’ll already have an audience for it. So, I started that in 2018, and what I do in my daily reading of the Scripture, I just ask the Holy Spirit to highlight something that maybe I haven’t seen before, and it’s always faithful to do that. I write those things that are highlighted in whatever the passage that I’m reading, and I put it in the margins of my journal, and then when it’s blog day, I look at those different keywords and things that I put in the margins and pick one and write about it. So, it’s really pulled in so many aspects of my counseling work and teaching psychology.
(36:26) Ruth Stitt
I wrote one just as an example. Blamelessness. King David, the Psalmist wrote about the idea of being blameless. If you remember Lawrence Kohlberg and his theory of moral development, I connected those ideas of how human beings, as they develop in other ways, emotionally and socially and psychologically, they’re also developing a sense of morality, and how you make moral decisions. Just an example of pulling something from some other area of my life, connecting it with a biblical concept, and then just reflecting on that.
(37:23) Dr. Doreen Downing
Wow. The interlacing of the ideas, it’s not just you saying that this is what the truth is. It feels like you are able to integrate all sorts of truths. I think from reading, already you help us understand more about what the richness of the Bible is. That, to me, is some of what I would like people, listeners today to know about you. How do people find you now?
(38:00) Ruth Stitt
Well, my blog site started out as just a WordPress blog, and then my daughter, who is a brilliant virtual assistant, helped me to convert that to more of a website, so I do have a website called, Scripturecomesto.life and that’s where you can access my blog. I’ve got just hundreds of blogs archived on there. I put together the last two years. Two years ago, I decided that I wanted to compile some of those blogs, the best of those blogs, because they’d never be found or read. Some of them I thought were worth sharing with the world. It took me a long time because I was still working, so I didn’t have lots of time or the margins to do the compilation, but finally, at the beginning of this year, I said, I am going to get this project done this year even if it kills me. So, I launched the book in August, just a month ago, and I’m still in the launch process right now.
(39:25) Dr. Doreen Downing
Right, it’s on Amazon Kindle.
(39:29) Ruth Stitt
Yes. It’s called, Scripture Comes to Life, and the subtitle is Reflections on Biblical Wisdom in Everyday Experience. I plan to do more volumes on that same kind of brand, as far as Scripture Comes to Life, I want to do books. This volume has 12 chapters that are on 12 different themes. Some of them are personal, some of them are relating to psychology and therapy, some related to music and creativity, grief and suffering, the church, and there’s a chapter about trouble, about the times that we’re living in, COVID, unrest, or plague and unrest, living in a time of plague and unrest. I wanted the first book to be kind of weighty and to pull together all those different themes. Now, I’m excited to pull them apart again, and produce a book that’s just about things that I’ve learned in the therapy room, Scripture Comes to Life in the Therapy Room, things that I’ve learned from clients that link me right back to something in scripture.
(40:59) Dr. Doreen Downing
Very nice. So, it’s emotional, political, social, and spiritual. It’s wonderful to have you lay it out and describe it like this. I think it’s real compelling to listeners, so let’s have them go to the website. Say the website one more time please.
(41:20) Ruth Stitt
Scripture comes to dot life.
(41:25) Dr. Doreen Downing
Dot com. Right or not?
(41:27) Ruth Stitt
No, it has to have a dot somewhere. When they created it for me, they put the dot before life. Scripture comes to dot life.
(41:38) Dr. Doreen Downing
All right. That’s where people can find you. We’re coming to the end. I want to just invite you to— Like you say, musicians. This is more like a jam we’re having. What comes now to close our time together for you?
(42:03) Ruth Stitt
Well, we are living in some really interesting times, and just the opportunity. Doreen, I love how you listen, and I love your curiosity and just your enthusiasm. I just wrote an email today, my weekly email. I’m just celebrating the encouragers in my life, and just wanting to be one of those people that is safe, that’s engaged. I just think that we just need to be that for each other, and lay down a lot of presuppositions, and just love people one at a time, as they come, as well as we can. I’m not here to fix the world. I am not God. I don’t have the power to fix the world, but I can love people and encourage them one at a time as they come.
(43:16) Dr. Doreen Downing
So beautiful. I feel touched by your love, Ruth. Thank you so much for sharing your voice today.
(43:23) Ruth Stitt
Thank you, Doreen. I appreciate you inviting me. It’s been lovely.
Also listen on…
Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: doreen7steps.com.
Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: doreen7steps.com.