An Advent of Humanity – No Cape Necessary

by Dayna Pizzigoni

What does it mean to have a God that was born in a manger and died on a cross? About five years ago I wrote this question in an untitled notebook on a page without a date. As my spiritual community closes our liturgical year with Christ our King on the cross and begins our celebration of Advent, I ponder this question and its personal meaning in my faith journey again.

The reality of a God born in a barn and murdered after healing the sick and feeding the hungry means that Jesus was not a super hero. He participated in the messiness of humanity. I need to remember that if God did not step into the world as a super hero then She probably doesn’t expect me to be a super hero (despite how fun it might be to have super powers as a doctoral student).

I am a human being. God does not expect me to be perfect. He intentionally did not give me a super hero cape. My humanity, like my need for rest and play, is not a flaw. The most significant joy I will celebrate, pain I will suffer, and contribution I will offer the world will be done cape-less-ly as a regular human.

Now it must be said that sometimes we, as humans, do put on wonderful capes of determination and resilience. Single fathers, abuse survivors, refugees, and struggling students probably have made good use of metaphorical capes. It is beautiful how we can survive, stretch, and grow, but this strength becomes a liability when our expectations for ourselves become too high. We are not made to be “on” and heroic all the time. Following Christ is not about being a super hero. It is about being fully human.

There is nothing as tempting as a doctoral program to make me wish I could be a super hero; however, doctoral classes are not crises. I do not need a cape for my courses. I need to plan for adequate time to do my work and trust my intelligence. My studies call me not to heroism, but to humility with which work and be ever grateful for the privilege of higher education.

This Advent I hope to contemplate the beauty of our limited humanity. I can honor the holiness of my humanity and humbly invite Christ into the Bethlehem of my heart this Advent. Jesus will be ok in the messiness of my fragile humanity. After all, He was born in a manger and died on a cross.

Change

by Nicole Snyder

Change is a part of life.  Weather changes.  Last week it was warm and dry, this week it is cold and rainy.  Seasons change.  Summer is gone and fall is here with its red, orange, and yellow leaves.  A new moon gives way to a full moon.  Days are becoming shorter, with a little less sunlight each day.  These changes become a part of the rhythm of my life.  Changes that are predictable.  Changes that I look forward to.

There are also changes as a result of choice.  Some choices change my life in minor ways and others send ripples through my life in dramatic ways.  My most recent life altering choice was to leave my home in Portland, Oregon, pack my stuff into a trailer, and drive 4,500 miles in order to attend the Pastoral Counseling program.  This change, no matter its impact and therefore challenges, was by choice.  As a result, the stress associated with all the changes in my life is, in many ways, expected.  I also have expectations of when all of these major changes will become routine and when the sense of change will decrease.  Like a large rock thrown into a pond, I can count on the ripples eventually dissipating.

Then there are changes that are neither predictable nor by choice.  These changes have spun my world, shattered expectations, and caused me to lie broken on the floor in pieces.  I could never have predicted their appearance and I often cannot predict when the ripples will dissipate.  Yet these unexpected changes have also been the changes from which I have risen stronger, leaving behind in the ashes the parts of me I no longer need.

Since arriving in Maryland, my choice like Pandora’s box has quickly transformed into unexpected change.  My knee jerk reaction is to resist, minimize, and deny what the change is allowing me to learn about myself.  I have to actively work at resisting these urges and instead embrace this tidal wave of change as a window of opportunity for healing.  I have learned the hard way over the years that embracing change is the best way forward, but it has been highly inconvenient.  Lying in pieces on the floor does not go well with being in graduate school.  Despite the inconvenience, I attempt to be grateful for my inward desire to be whole, for the opportunity to heal, and my strength to continually change.

My faith (both in myself and the metaphysical) is what I hold onto in the midst of change.   Change is what I hope to be all about, changing myself, and helping others find the change they want for themselves.  It is why I have chosen this career field.  Change is terrifying, but it is also inspiring.  May the changes before us inspire us.

Just One Step

by Andrea Noel

At a recent visit to my alma mater, I encountered a group of students who chose to participate in the annual Alternative Spring Break (ASB) Program. ASB is a weeklong service learning experience that students voluntarily substitute for entertaining vacations during spring break. ASB is spread nationally and internationally, involves graduates and undergraduates, and responds to the needs of marginalized populations.

Throughout the week, students live together and work in teams at various sites providing services to forgotten residents in local communities. Each day, they reflect on their encounters at these sites. During my visit with the Washington D.C. ASB team, I witnessed meaningful thoughts students shared about people they met at schools, homeless shelters, and hospices.

One particular student shared that there exists this overwhelming need for change in the world. In Washington D.C. there are too many homeless people, individuals dying of AIDS/HIV, children abused and neglected, schools closing and over-crowded, violent crimes increasing, and fixed unemployment rates. This student said it seems impossible for one week of service to make any difference in the lives of individuals who encounter so much scarcity, violence, or disregard. The student believed the work of the week seemed hopeless.

After hearing this, I recalled a prayer attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero. This prayer was written by Bishop Ken Untener, of Saginaw, November 1979, in celebration of the lives of departed priests.

“…The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise
that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete…the Kingdom always lies beyond
us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith…

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission…

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development…

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an

opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master

builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.[1]
Amen.

May this prayer shape our ways of being present to those we serve as pastoral counselors and spiritual caregivers. Although problems around us seem monumental, let us do whatever we can with love and care.


[1] Untener, K. (1979) Archbishop Oscar Romero prayer: A step along the way. Retrieved from http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/prayers/archbishop_romero_prayer.cfm

Defining lives and careers: It goes both ways

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.
Confucius

In pastoral counseling at Loyola, students invest long hours preparing for the
diversity of clients who we will counsel during our clinical internship and afterwards in the “real” world. We learn to identify and treat depression, anxiety, trauma, and personality disorders. We learn how humans become who they are and the dynamics of family life. We investigate the insidious disease of addiction and avenues of therapy. We choose our theoretical approach to practice and how to integrate psychology and spirituality. When I took a class in career counseling, however, I puzzled about its usefulness in pastoral care.

Then, America found itself in a recession. Suddenly, my internship was full of clients who were unemployed and looking for more than self-esteem boosters. They knew why they felt bad and what would help them feel better: a job. I turned to Loyola affiliate faculty, Deb Rollison, Ph.D., who teaches career development, for some guidance.

The people who were having the hardest time finding employment were in their late 50’s and early 60’s. For these clients, Dr. Rollison recommends:

  • Do not put dates of graduation on resumes
  • Summarize work experience that is ten years or older
  • Reframe what older means by exploring advantages: experience, loyalty, fewer sick days, wisdom, and perspective
  • Think in terms of accomplishments, including volunteer experience; list 6 to 8 PAR key accomplishment statements that show:
    • Problem – what did you face?
    • Action – what did you do?
    • Results – what happened specifically and measurably?

Exploring your clients’ accomplishments, what they enjoy, and how they effectively managed difficult times in the past is key to helping people develop self-reliance and coping skills. I encourage and coach unemployed clients to talk about what they have done and why it mattered. This helps them sell themselves both to prospective employers and to themselves. It is a constant reminder of their self-worth.

AARP’s job hunting web page is a good resource for older Americans. America’s Career InfoNet is a gateway available to everyone to explore careers, State job banks, occupation and industry information, and much more.

The longer unemployment goes on, the more strain there will be on relationships, finances, and families. If you are counseling a person with a history of substance abuse, unemployment may be a trigger or a slippery place. I have helped clients with social services, fill out forms, identify their current assets and budgets, and find the closest AA meetings.

Deb Rollison put it very clearly: Career is not just a job but a whole life – it is leisure, priorities, and purpose. In helping others define their careers and make their lives whole, my career and life as a pastoral counselor become whole.

 

 

 

Deb Rollison: When Spirit talked, she listened

Deb Rollison in her classroom

Barbara:          Deb, you are a graduate of the MS/PhD program – why did you choose Loyola and pastoral counseling?

Deb:    Since 2004, I had been engaged in the work of career counseling. As a career coach, I helped dozens of people find work that honored their skills, passions, and hopes. I worked with people once they were past the disruptive, unhappy parts of losing a job. As needed, I would refer distressed people to a counselor and sometimes see them after that counseling to help them find a new job. I wanted to apply a more holistic, broad spectrum approach to helping people, but I found myself mostly working on resume and interviewing skills.

I grew restless with the repetition.  Relying on my Catholic faith, I prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of vocations, and I asked: “Where is my own calling at this time in my life?” A friend, who is a career counselor, asked me: “Have you thought about pastoral counseling?” I didn’t think much about it at the time, but then I went to a national career development conference and listened to Richard Bolles (author of the well-know career guide, What Color Is Your Parachute?) talk about his own learning and journey following an illness. He said something to the effect, “If you hear something once, you might pay attention, but if you hear something twice, that may be Spirit talking.”

Amazing! That very morning I had had breakfast with another friend, who also suggested I consider pastoral counseling. This time, I listened. As soon as I got home, I got on the Internet, found Loyola, and knew that I had a clear calling. God led me to Loyola. I always wanted a PhD in clinical psychology, but I had to spend many years in between learning that I did not want to be a PhD, I wanted to have a PhD, so I could do important and caring things for people.

Barbara:          One of the important and caring things you do is teach here at Loyola. What is your teaching philosophy?

Deb:    My philosophy is to teach people to reach out to others in a larger way. I am your co-learner, I am alongside you, this is something we get to share. You teach me as much or more as I teach you. I feel very privileged and honored to be affiliate faculty. Teaching charges me up. I get “in the flow” and feel graced whenever I am in the classroom. What an adventure! What more important work is there than helping people create the work they were meant to do?

Barbara:          How do you incorporate spirituality into your curriculum?

Deb:    I ask students to start each class with a prayer or moment of silence. In each assignment, I invite students to reflect upon the pastoral dimensions of a theory, website, an interview, or reading. Because most of these are secular, students have to stretch their ideas and imaginations. For example, in career development, we work to relate each career theory in a pastoral way and how to adapt it in a pastoral context. I encourage students to add a spiritual assessment to every profession.

Barbara:          Speaking of professions, how can students use a pastoral counseling degree?

Deb:    I was fortunate to have Dr. Joe Ciarrocchi as my instructor in several classes. He said you can do so much with a pastoral counseling degree, and I so agree. Students learn skills that transfer in all job arenas. They get training in analytical thinking, the ability to write well, and interpersonal skills. The Loyola program enhances a student’s ability to reach out in all professions, blending technical skill with personal caring.

When Feeling Bad is Good

When feeling bad is good for you

Barbara Kass

Just as our bodies signal us to tend to our physical well-being, so our emotions act like messengers to mind our emotional well-being. When we are rested and energized, we can take on life’s challenges with ease. Feeling tired indicates we need to retreat and relax. Likewise, feelings of joy, contentment, and love say “everything is fine” while feeling angry, anxious, or depressed make us uncomfortable and think “something is wrong.”

The happiness road beckons all of us yet trying to follow that path by avoiding painful emotions is a gateway to living a less-than-authentic life. Meeting difficult emotions face-to-face is the foundation of resilience and can help guide our lives. When struck by a spark of rage or held immobile by despair or fear, we must ask ourselves: What purpose does this emotion serve for me? What am I trying to tell myself? How can this emotion best guide my decisions and actions in the next moments?

In his book, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, author James Martin points out that any emotion can overwhelm us. We might feel a joy out of proportion to a particular event or moved to tears for something insignificant and wonder: What is wrong with me? In those distinct moments, we don’t quite feel right. There is a certain emptiness, a longing, a desire to connect with a larger understanding that seems just outside of our reach. Martin calls those moments invitations from God asking us to communicate with the greater power of our origination. And if we connect with the power that gave us this life – the power that wants us to have a good life – we know we are getting the best counseling available.

I frequent a blog, Domini Canes, where a recent post reminded me that we look to God for answers through prayer, but prayer is not a man-made action. Rather, prayer is a gift, a door eternally open to connection with God. We are both the seeker and the sought.

Our lives shout at us through our feelings and in the silent circumstances of our deeds. Your emotions will tell you everything you need to know about your journey. As you sift through the results of your decisions and actions, look at how your trials made meaning in your life and know the presence of God within you.

Hiking Shoes and Water Required

This is the perfect time of the year for getting up early and going for a hike. The other day, I grabbed my water pack and my puppy—a five-year-old black lab/beagle mix named Princess and headed to the park.

Princess on our hike

                We arrived at the trailhead and began our trek through the woods following the trails that are already shaped out for hikers; at some point our curiosities led us off the trail and into the woods with little to guide us. We traversed some water obstacles—well I traversed, Princess just sat in the water. We climbed steep hills, over dead trees, and I slid down a muddy hill on my butt. It was an exciting six-mile hike through the woods.

Chrystal in Iraq 2004

Chrystal in Iraq 2004

                Trekking through the woods reminds me of my life’s journeys. There are ups and downs; sometimes the path looks impossible with tall hills, rocks, water, and obstacles—all to be overcome. Risks need to be taken when faced with obstacles and when deciding to stay on a path laid out for you or to leave it and travel the unknown.     

                Most people who know me would tell you that I’ve done a lot for a thirty something. Life is a journey—and I love it. I served in the U. S. Army for over five years—even going to Iraq; I worked as a government contractor—boring; I packed everything I own and moved 500 miles south to go to a small private Christian college—because I wanted to live in a small town; I spent a summer in China teaching English to teachers—awesome!; I went through a period of depression in college—I had teachers and counselors that cared and helped me through it; I went to South Africa, India, Bangladesh, and Mozambique for a semester to complete my undergrad internship; I graduated from college—it took me 12 years to complete and I was the first in my family to do it!

                I thought I was on the wrong trail when I found myself back in Maryland. I wanted to find a different trail, but I wasn’t even sure which direction it was in. I found a path that led me to Loyola University. Everything about my journey has led me here—all my defeats and victories, trials and triumphs!

                My journey is still just beginning—I anticipate that I’ll find some other trails along the way, some I’ll stick to for a while and some I won’t. Along my journey I hope to help others discover their life story and overcome the obstacles to find the path that is meant for them.

Life after Loyola |An Interview with Lurlene D. Sweeney, LCPC

LIFE AFTER LOYOLA: 
An Interview with Lurlene D. Sweeney, LCPC

My first-year clinical supervisor, Mrs. Lurlene D. Sweeney, LCPC, is a graduate of Loyola University Maryland’s Pastoral Counseling program.  She is calm, sensitive, compassionate, and understanding, with a strong work ethic.  I was always impressed with the skill and ease that she brought to our supervisory meetings.  Not only did she have excellent clinical skills, but her pastoral presence was very valuable in helping me navigate my new role as a bereavement counselor intern.  Even after our mandatory sessions were over, I would call Mrs. Sweeney whenever I needed therapeutic guidance, and she was always amenable to receiving my calls.  Therefore, as I considered life after Loyola, my mind automatically found Mrs. Sweeney.  What follows is a glimpse of Lurlene D. Sweeney’s life after Loyola.

 

Glenda Laurent Dickonson:  When did you graduate from the Pastoral Counseling program and what degree did you receive?
Lurlene D. Sweeney:  I graduated in 2003 with a Master’s of Science in Pastoral Counseling.

GLD:  What was your first job after graduation, and how easy or difficult was it to attain? 
LDS:  I began working prior to graduation as a consultant.  I had formed a partnership with two other clinicians and we provided behavioral health consultation to a non-profit as a subcontractor for the Department of Health and Human Services from 2002 – 2004. 

GLD:  Did your affiliation with Loyola and/or the Pastoral Counseling program benefit you in finding employment after ending your tenure with Health and Human Services?
LDS:  In 2004 I was employed by Prince George’s Health Department Children and Parents Program (CAP) where I had done both years of my clinical internship.  I worked there as a therapist until 2006.  Actually the director had offered to hire me during my first internship year with CAP, but I declined because I did not want it to interfere with my studies.  So you see the connection with Loyola in terms of obtaining employment.  It is often the case that a student is offered employment at their placement. 

GLD:  You left CAP in 2006, so what is your current position?
LDS:  I am an independent contractor with The Pathfinder Project, Inc., a group practice serving multi-generational, multi-cultural clients with a variety of mental health disorders.  I have chosen, at this time, to work part-time, and this venue suits my needs, allowing me to work 2-3 days per week.  In addition, I provide supervision for graduate students in Loyola’s Pastoral Counseling program (http://www.loyola.edu/pastoralcounseling).  I enjoy staying engaged with the students and staff at Loyola.  My flexibility in my work schedule facilitates my availability for supervision.

GLD:  Did you have a specific goal upon graduation, and if so, have you attained it, or are you on your way?
LDS:  Actually, I did have a goal.  I have not yet attained it, and it’s possible that I will not; but that’s okay because what I am doing is no doubt in line with what God has for my life.  My goal when I began the Pastoral Counseling program, was to develop skills and qualifications to work with organizations, particularly churches in conflict.  I wanted to do conflict resolution within the religious community.  The description provided by Dr. Bob Wicks during open house was that this program was a marriage of theology and psychology, and it sounded like the ideal program to launch the career I wanted.  I had an undergraduate degree in psychology, and had spent decades studying scripture, and I loved both areas.  Therefore, Pastoral Counseling sounded great to me.  By the way, I had never heard of Pastoral Counseling before reading the announcement for the open house in the Washington Post.

GLD:  What was your favorite or most meaningful class that you took at Loyola?
LDS:  The most meaningful class was Group Therapy because of what happened in that class.  I witnessed the power of the process to bring meaningful change in a person’s life.  That class changed me and my classmates in a very profound and lasting way.

GLD:  Is there a professor or staff member who inspired you or who you admired?
LDS:  Dr. Wicks impressed me as to what it means to be a pastoral person.  Dr. Joe Ciarrocchi left an imprint for being demanding but fair; the former Clinical Director was the most encouraging to me personally.

GLD:  Many students come to Pastoral Counseling as a second or even third career.  What about you?  What were you doing prior to Loyola?
LDS:  Prior to Loyola I was a career Civil Servant.  I retired as a Supervisory Safety and Health Manager from the U.S. Coast Guard.  That was a job that required more left-brain activity – thinking rather than feeling, making tough decisions, managing crises, etc.

GLD:  Why Pastoral Counseling?  Was it a calling? 
LDS:  Given the diversion from my goal, I must acknowledge what people like Dr. Allan Tsai said to me early on – that I possess a gift that makes it easy for people to talk to me, and I am able to really hear what they are saying.  I know the gift is from God, and has been there all along, but I was not pursuing the development of the gift.

GLD:  What advice do you have for current PC students?

LDS:  To get the most out of the program, one has to be open to the experience.  It’s not just an education, it is a process of personal change – a journey, first for the learning clinician, and then for those they work with.  As scripture says:  “And hardworking farmers should be the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor.”  2 Tim. 2:6 (NLT).

A Journey of Faith and Fulfillment

A journey of faith and fulfillment. When I read those words on the Loyola’s Pastoral Counseling website, I felt the connection. I have come to see my life as journey, one that needs discernment, one that believes in destiny. I was facing yet another major life change when I felt the call to enter the Pastoral Counseling program. 

My first discernment of journey came early in life. I felt called to the monastic life when still in my teens.  I applied and got accepted into a monastery. Following that call required privations and sacrifices, leaving family and friends behind as I forged a new family, community and life. I found the call challenging but remained in it for many years. Finally, circumstances made it clear I needed a change. Though it proved the most difficult decision in my life, I accepted the call to move on and left the monastery.

But moving on can mean so many things. I found it hard to identify with my peers when I went on to college.  I felt out of place with my colleagues when I got my first job. I watched life progress and felt as though I were standing and watching it through a window, forever wondering where I fit in. Perhaps I had somehow gotten lost on my journey, perhaps I had missed my turn or wandered into areas I was not meant to be.

Then I found the ad in Commonweal describing the Pastoral Counseling program at Loyola. It mentioned calling, journey, and spirituality. I felt the attraction, I felt it to be the fit I longed for.

When I came for my interview, I knew my first test would be getting accepted into the program. Next, I would have to complete the requirements. But I was no stranger to sacrifice and challenge, to discernment and prayer.

Best of all, I have found classmates in this program who have had similar experiences, whose journeys have not been straight and narrow, but rather winding along a path of uniqueness. I am thrust into a group that is no stranger to suffering, sacrifice, and challenge. Here, I no longer look out the window and wonder about the rest. I sit at table and discuss, share, and experience.

I find strength in learning of the journeys of others. I find inspiration, comfort, and encouragement at the commitment others are making to be in this program, seeking a degree in Pastoral Counseling. I find that many, like me, are changing careers, forging a new path, accepting the daunting challenge of becoming a Pastoral Counselor.

And so I continue with my journey, working in the Master of Science program, hoping to become a Pastoral Counselor. And I know I am not alone.

Beginning with a single step

The Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu stated, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. My decision to enroll in the Pastoral Counseling Program was that single step on the long journey to becoming a professional counselor.

I started my professional career as an accountant armed with an Accounting Degree from the University of Maryland – College Park. For 15 years, my life was filled with numbers, spreadsheets and financial statements. It was honorable work and I was good at it, yet as the fiscal years began to add up, I realized that there was a source of fulfillment that was missing. My faith had always been an integral part of my life and in 2004 that increased significantly as I finished my denomination’s five year process to become an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In that role it is my humbling pleasure and privilege, to serve the members of the church and the community. A good portion of that service is encouraging others, instilling hope, providing spiritual direction and being present with persons as they experience life. In the pursuit of this I realized that even with a generous heart and the best intentions, increased knowledge was needed to become more effective in my service. That is when I made the decision to go back to school for a degree in counseling.

Loyola became a logical choice for multiple reasons. I didn’t want just any counseling degree, I wanted one that would embrace and not dismiss the solid foundation of faith that was already in my life. The Pastoral Counseling program at Loyola connected with those same goals. The diversity that Loyola offers in both cultural backgrounds and religious faiths was also very attractive. The differences in perspective and points of view have been both enlightening and enriching. Lastly, I had the experience of observing a class during one the department’s “Open Houses.” Seeing the interaction between the students and the professor was exhilarating. In fact, at one point the class discussion was so engaging that I had to stop myself from jumping in. I know now that even in my “pre-enrolled” state, my verbal contribution would have been welcomed and valued.

I started my MS Pastoral Counseling Degree journey in the fall of 2010 and I start my clinical internship next semester. So I have stopped counting the steps and am now truly enjoying the journey.