Showtime

By the time you read this blog, millions of people will have already attended an Easter service on Sunday. Many parishioners will have purchased new clothes, and numerous churches will have spent money to make sure that their buildings and the worship experience are as attractive as possible. There will be plays, dramatizations, special guests, and special effects. In an overheard conversation, one pastor even called Easter Sunday, “Showtime”.

I thought long and hard about that statement. What exactly are churches offering on “Showtime” Easter Sunday? And why is that offering not compelling enough to encourage persons to come back before Easter of the next year? Is that an indication of their lack of religious conviction or an indictment of the relevance of the Church? Many churches are reporting that attendance is dropping and it is not beyond belief to wonder if eventually Easter will just become another Sunday.

I don’t think it has to be that way. Even in our age of smartphones, tablets, and virtual-almost-everything, I still believe that the community church is relevant and necessary. There are challenges that the Church must address. How does the Church really feel about marriage equality and why are so many Church marriages failing? What does the Church really think about issues like gun control, poverty, and equal rights? Has there ever really been a separation between Church and State and, if so, what are the boundaries? These are questions that need answers and not all of those answers are easy to obtain. And most of the people who found their way into Church doors on Easter cared more about the love they felt rather than the answers to those questions.

So maybe rather than Showtime, it is “time to show” the love of Jesus in a relevant way. It is “time to show” that church members are not perfect, just persistent. It is “time to show” that wearing the right attitude is more important than wearing the right clothes and that what you are driving is far less important than what is driving you. For the Church it is time to show that compassion, forgiveness, redemption, hope, and love are really the most impressive things that can ever be shown. So is it Showtime? Yes, every single Sunday; hopefully, the Church will make sure to show the right things!

Self-user friendly

“Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-law. But always meeting ourselves.” James Joyce (Ulysses)

Messages come from God/Spirit all the time and they are not always delivered via a burning bush. Okay . . . in my lifetime so far, they have NEVER been delivered via a burning bush, but I get them other ways. As my friend, Deb Rollison, said “if you hear something twice, that may be Spirit talking.”

Last week, fellow blogger,Glenda Dickonson, delivered an article on counselor self-care. That same weekend, before the article was published, the question “how can I practice better self-care?” came from another friend, Stacy, who is also in our pastoral counseling program. Both Glenda’s article and my conversation with Stacy yielded valuable and practical ways to take better care of ourselves.

But there was one practice of self-care that Stacy mentioned which, at first, seemed logical and easy enough. It was “be open and friendly.” Our interpretation was, of course, to be open and friendly to others. As we continued to talk, however, we realized that the question had been how to practice self-care, and so we pondered how to be more open and friendly to ourselves.

The answer did not come easily. Days later, I am still dancing around that doorway wondering how to get inside the open and friendly way of being with myself.

I observe when I am open and friendly with others and ask: am I being that way with me? Am I treating me with compassionate honesty, authenticity, caring, kindness, and acceptance?

I imagined myself as a friend who I have known for a long time. I know all of her challenges, her failures and disappointments, and her secret successes. Parts of life come easy for her while other parts are elusive mysteries that leave her puzzled and asking. I know where anger waits with ferocity (be warned anyone who mistreats children and animals!). I know what will bring her to sudden sadness (none of your business). I ask: am I being to myself the best friend I could possibly be? Am I being as open and accepting of myself as I am with other people?

No, I am not . . . not as often or as well as I could be. For some reason, I have different rules – a set of standards that says I should be-know-act-respond better than, holier than, more knowing than anyone else. Others are allowed to be more human than I am, and therein lies the lie and the key to that door. When I open the door, I discover that the truth is I am just as human as anyone and I am worthy of my own self-love, kindness, compassion, understanding, and acceptance. The same Divine light inspired me to life as inspired you and the rest of humanity.

And every bush around me is breathing another sigh of relief.

Loyola Magazine » Playing through Grief: Helping Children Heal

Beverly Sargent, a current Ph.D candidate, published two books about helping children use child-centered therapy to play through the grief of losing a parent. She was featured in Loyola Magazine’s December 2012 issue.

Read more here:

Loyola Magazine » Playing through Grief: Helping Children Heal.

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.

 

 

 

Tiffany (Coons) O’Hara – An M.S. Graduate Success Story

JoAnn: What led you to Loyola’s Department of Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Care?

Tiffany: I got my undergraduate degree from Mt. Saint Mary’s and knew I wanted to stay in Maryland.  While looking for graduate programs in Clinical Psychology, I saw Pastoral Counseling, but I had no idea what it was. I researched it, and the more I learned about it, the more I realized that it was the perfect fit for me with its blend of psychology and spirituality. I was not comfortable pushing aside my faith in my career path. I discerned Loyola was a good fit for me.

JoAnn: How was it at Loyola?

Tiffany: I loved Loyola from day one!  Starting class with a prayer, meeting people from different faith backgrounds, experiencing everyone’s passion to help other people, and the way they integrate spirituality into their work was so inspiring for me from my first class to my last and now.

JoAnn: What were your most memorable experiences?

Tiffany: Dr. Sharon Cheston’s and Dr. Frank Richardson’s classes stood out for me. Family Counseling and Pastoral Integration were my favorite classes. The clinical portions of my studies were meaningful for me. Getting hands-on experience with different supervisors was extremely helpful.  Two years of internship gave me the confidence to go out into the workforce and know that I was ready.

JoAnn: Where did you do your internships?

Tiffany: My first one was at St. Francis Academy, a Catholic High School in Baltimore, and the second year I was at Lighthouse Youth and Family Services. I had a practicum supervisor, an on-site supervisor, and a small group supervisor in my first internship and two supervisors in my second.  I learned so much from all of them and would advise students to make the most of the supervision that they receive.

JoAnn: I heard you got married, bought a new house, went on your first ever cruise for a honeymoon, got a new dog, wrote the Professional Seminar paper, and got a new job!  How did you juggle it all?

Tiffany: Through the grace of God!  And, with very supportive family/friends and self-care. I did a lot of knitting and crocheting blankets/scarves. I prayed and journaled. I had a “keep my eyes on the prize” mentality.  Everything that happened, while stressful, was a positive thing, so that helped.  Knowing that I was called to be a counselor helped me to get through the program.

JoAnn: How was the job hunting process?

Tiffany: I started job hunting my second to last semester before I graduated. Perhaps I was a bit pre-emptive, but I am glad I did. The process was frustrating and discouraging! I put out so many resumes and only got only two bites. I was in a catch-22 situation. I had not yet graduated or gotten my license. I interviewed with Contemporary Family Services. I told them I wanted to be a school-based counselor and they were looking for a counselor for their charter schools in Baltimore. They offered me the job on the spot! I will start as soon as my LGPC (Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor) certification is completed.

JoAnn: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Tiffany: I am thankful, grateful, and blessed to have gone through the program, graduated, and to be where I am now.  I enjoyed my years at Loyola in the PC
Program
and I miss it much more than I thought I would.

Meaning Making is a Super Power!

“Each of us is questioned by life; and each of us can only answer to life by answering for our own life.” Viktor E. Frankl , Man’s Search for Meaning

Talk about “meaning making.” Dr. Viktor Frankl was a Holocaust survivor who came to understand that all of life—including life in a concentration camp—puts forth the possibility for life to be made whole. In many ways, this wholeness emerges in responses to our choices, even if our choices are limited by circumstances (like suffering imprisonment, losing every loved one in your life, or other unspeakable harm).

In such a case then, one’s choice is the option to grow and be something more than who s/he is today or to stay focused on current ways of being and knowing in order to survive. No one can stop us from new growth, unless we give our permission. No one can stop us from making meaning in our lives unless we allow them to do so.

  • Failures of the past or present, rather than stealing meaning, create NEW meaning as we use our new information to discern the path that is laying itself before us in this new moment.
  • Wounds that we bear, rather than create victims; create heroes with hearts of strength who choose to forge ahead despite all odds.
  • Challenges we face encourage us to remember that we can’t do it alone—we need help. Even as we step toward new horizons of meaning, we are walking with others as they do the same.

THIS is the privilege of being a pastoral counselor: Even as we seek to make meaning in our own lives, we are graced with the privilege of accompanying others as they make meaning in theirs. In this process, my life is changed. In this process, the lives of others are changed. In this process, our lives together are changed.

And therein the world is changed.

Now there’s a super power I can get behind. My life’s journey isn’t about questioning what is happening to me. Rather, life itself is questioning me about how I plan to engage my existence.

I’d love to hear about your super power. Whether it is invisibility, flying, million dollar metal suits, or “meaning making,” what are your super power’s effects on the adventures of your life?

Disordered Affection: Finding God in all the wrong places?

The phrase “disordered affections” captured my attention while I was reading James Martin’s The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. St. Ignatius of Loyola first described disordered affections in his Spiritual Exercises as whatever keeps us from being free. It is an “affection” because we find it appealing. We are drawn to it. It satisfies a hunger – a need within us, and, after a while, it becomes an “attachment.” We think we cannot live without it. Thus, it is “disordered” because it is not “life giving.”

As I chased down its meaning, I uncovered how I use disordered affections in my life to distract myself from my path and growing closer to God. In pastoral counseling, it is easy to identify the disordered affections and attachments that are obviously not “life giving” and cause harm: substance abuse, alcoholism, hoarding, obsessive-compulsive disorder. But what about those disordered affections that are seemingly harmless like watching television, the Internet, reading, exercise, work, and, um, chocolate?

So, I did a little research and found a definition on This Ignatian Life :

 “Disordered attachments are those things (objects, experiences, activities, even other people) who become the focus of our desires and, consequently our time on this earth, rather than seeking the will and companionship of God.”

Hmmm. This might mean that my job qualifies as a disordered affection . . . but we’ll deal with that later. Here are some questions This Ignatian Life recommends we ask to identify disordered affections:

  • Does the object of your affection distract you from your focus to be closer to God? (Only after lunch and only when it involves chocolate.)
  • Is more of your time spent attending to these affections rather than the work you need to be doing? (No, I can eat chocolate and answer e-mail at the same time.)
  • Do you have a fear of feeling empty if you do not attend to your affections? (Darn it . . . yes! Only chocolate will fill that emptiness!)
  • Is your time spent trying to accumulate more time with or material objects surrounding your affections? (Hmm. I purchased the party-size bag of M&M’s® and carry it with me. At first, I thought I would just carry a serving size but what if it was not enough and I want more? It doesn’t make sense to BUY more when I already have $11.99 worth at home.)

Interestingly, St. Ignatius offers a way to overcome disordered attachments that might sound a little familiar to pastoral counselors:

  • Begin by naming the disorder. (Chocoholism.)
  • Admit that the disorder impacts your life and relationships. (Sigh . . . see the 3 out of 4 “yes” answers above.)
  • Remember your desire to move closer to God and your commitment to serve others. (St. Ignatius also reminded me that my desire is also God’s desire to be closer to me, and I never share my M&M’s® with anyone.)
  • Seek the grace to be strong and committed to your path. Rather than completely deny the object of your attachment, seek only to hold it openly, in ways that free your soul from fear. (I was inspired to purchase an M&M® dispenser and place it on the desk in my office. Now, people trickle in for a handful of candy and stay and chat for a minute or two.)

Ignatian spirituality calls for us to find God in all things. Even within a disordered affection, if I seek to find God and His grace, I will find my freedom and perhaps a few other souls along the way.

Time to Pull up My Big Girl Panties: Reflecting on Grief and Strength

“Time to Pull Up My Big Girl Panties”

 Yep—that’s what she said.  That’s exactly what she said. 

Who said it?

Dr. Kari O’Grady—a well respected pastoral counselor and scholar in the discipline of trauma and religious coping. 

What is she referring to?

She was quoting a former student and colleague in the Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Care (PCSC) Department at Loyola University Maryland.

This is where Dr. O’Grady’s turn of phrase becomes meaningful—almost beyond words. 

Dr. O’Grady was quoting the Rev. Dr. Mary-Marguerite Kohn, an affiliate PCSC professor and graduate of Loyola during a eulogy. Only days before, Mary-Marguerite was in the church office with the administrative assistant of her parish when a participant in their ministry to the homeless fatally shot both women.  He fled the scene and killed himself.

Dr. Mary-Marguerite Kohn

In the moment that Dr. O’Grady repeated the proclamation that it was “time to pull up her big girl panties” she was making a double entendre.  In the context of Rev. Kohn’s funeral, Dr. O’Grady was honoring the life spirit of a former student and colleague who chose hope over despair and who chose courage and compassion in the midst of fear and loss.

She was quoting Mary-Marguerite’s conviction to begin a new path upon receiving her doctorate only three years before.  It was one of those miraculous moments the heart stumbles on at a funeral…when a sense of being embraced by the spirit of life and love of the newly departed envelops the bereaved in the midst of their shock and sense of loss.

It could easily be a reminder of all that the PCSC Department at Loyola has experienced recently.  Almost unbearably, Mary-Marguerite is the third PCSC faculty member at Loyola to die three years—and the third to die an untimely and tragic death.

First, Dr. Kelly Murray and her 7 year old daughter were killed by a falling tree while idling at an intersection in their family vehicle during a storm in 2009; and then, a little over a year later, the department chair, Dr. Joseph Ciarrocchi died from multiple myeloma. 

All three of these folks lived lives filled with meaning and compassion which touched the hearts and lives of many, many people.  (Their obituaries are linked below.)  And all three were colleagues and friends of Dr. O’Grady and the members of the PCSC department.  Until Rev. Kohn’s death, I did not know the upheaval that the department had already experienced.

In that moment I learned the words in the Loyola online catalog describing the Pastoral Counseling program as holistic and integrated are not just there to describe positive sounding academic endeavors in the abstract.  They are accurate descriptors of the program.  They describe not only the courses but also the clinical education, the professors’ interweaving clinical work with quality teaching, the structure of individual courses, and the meaningful faculty and staff relationships with students.

We PCSC students are being challenged to learn, grow and transform our lives in the same way that we hope to accompany others on a path of meaning making and healing. 

This is precisely what Dr. O’Grady was doing for those of us in the congregation at Mary-Marguerite Kohn’s funeral…encouraging us to “pull up our big girl panties” and receive our own sadness, loss, fears, and wounds.  Because…as she well knows… the only way through hurt to healing, is through the hurt with compassion for self and others.  And the encouragement she gave to us to gird our hearts and move forward, just as she was doing for herself, was the most profound teaching moment and modeling of lifelong learning healing I have experienced as I continue to seek to understand the call to be a “pastoral counselor.”

Grace and Peace be with you—and everyone whose lives you touched…

Dr. Kelly Murray:

http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2009-06-29/news/0906280083_1_loyola-college-murray-psychology-professor

Dr. Joseph Ciarrocchi:
Dr. Joseph Ciarrocchi

http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2010-10-31/news/bs-md-ob-joseph-ciarrocchi-20101031_1_catholic-priest-psychology-educator

Rev. Dr. Mary-Marguerite Kohn:

http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2012-05-08/news/bs-md-ho-kohn-funeral-20120508_1_memorial-service-mix-tapes-doctorate

Hearing my Heart for the First Time: When faith is challenged

            Friday’s Human Development class began with the question, “On what is my heart set?”  My initial answer is Christ although my actions don’t always point to that.  Where does my faith truly lie?  Is it in the Catholic Church where I grew up?  Is it possible God is leading me to a different faith tradition?  He has shown me parts of Himself in each religion I’ve encountered.  This question had posed itself before and each time I have pushed it aside, feeling guilty for even considering it.  Friday night I was surrounded by people who had faced that question, answered it, and ultimately found peace.  Their acceptance, openness, and honesty made all the difference.  I felt no guilt in considering the question and shortly I had the answer.  My heart is set on Christ, my HusbandMy marriage to Him is the most important thing in my life.  Our union is that for which I live and will die.  Since the Catholic Church is the only institution that honors our marriage, I will stay.  My anger at current leadership remains.  So now what?

            We discussed Fowler’s stages of faith.  During stage IV, a person’s faith is challenged.  Something happens that contradicts what she believes to be true and she is then forced to question:  Do I continue to follow blindly?  Do I leave behind that which I once knew to be true in order to follow new truth?  Do I reconcile the two – and if yes, how?  Certain events have happened that are challenging my faith.  I question the character of God – not doubting Him, but to better understand Him – and I am seeking advice from every wise man, not despising any useful counsel (Tobit 4:18).  With the religious diversity at Loyola, wise men and women are abundant.

We learn faith from those around us.  I’m sure some would argue the opposite because many leave the faith tradition they grew up in, either finding a different one or abandoning organized religion altogether.  But the bottom line is this:  faith is what drives you, it is that on which you have set your heart. I live by faith.  I question my faith but that is necessary – if I don’t ask, I won’t receive.  I am discovering that my Husband, though Jewish when He walked the earth, is not necessarily Jewish.  Or Catholic.  Or Muslim.  Or Hindu.  Or Buddhist.  But He is certainly present in all these traditions.  We are a people who, as Dr. McGinnis says, have written on our hearts to seek God.  I am reminded of a phrase in Slumdog Millionaire, spoken by Jamal to the girl he loves, Latika.  Tragic events transpire in their lives yet he persists in looking for her.  She asks why and he responds, “We are meant to be together.  It is written.”  It was written on his heart.  It was his faith in a love so profound that he could not imagine a life without her in it.  Whatever transpired to that point was unimportant.  As Victor Frankl said, “A person who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.”

It is my love for my Husband – and my desire for our union – that drives my life trajectory.  It is my anchor through the storm, keeping me grounded in my faith in the Eucharist even as my faith in those consecrating it is deeply shaken.  I will continue to search for those ways in which I can reconcile my faith to my religion.  Why?  Because it is written.

When the Unthinkable Happens: A Loyola Student’s Amazing Recovery from an Ischemic Stroke

I could only imagine the thoughts that were invading his mind as he lowered himself to the bathroom floor and dialed 911.  My friend/classmate, who I will call Al to respect his privacy, was scheduled to graduate from Loyola University Maryland in four weeks, with a Masters of Science (“MS”) degree in pastoral counseling.  He had taken the National Counselor Examination (“NCE”) that morning, and was still in the building, when tragedy struck.  For the next two months, Al exchanged the classroom for the physical and occupational therapy rooms, as he relearned how to perform basic activities of daily living (“ADLs”), with the goal of regaining his independence. 

Al had suffered a stroke, specifically a right anterior cerebral artery ischemic stroke.  This stroke did not create facial distortions, nor did it affect his mind.  However, his left side was weak, and in addition to an inability to control the affected muscles and limbs, he experienced pain and intermittent muscle spasms.  What the stroke did not affect was his positive attitude and sense of purpose.  And as I read his daily posts on Facebook, and the e-mail updates from his wife, I developed an appreciation for his faith in God and his personal power.  I had no doubt that recovery would occur, and it would happen quickly.

The daily updates were, in essence, progress notes.  Each day offered a reason to celebrate, and on the rare occasion that a relapse occurred, getting back on track was almost immediate.  I knew Al was an active member of his church, and as I followed his progress, I recognized that his relationship with God played a more essential role in his recovery than I had originally imagined.  One evening during a visit, we discussed his faith and how it related to his current situation. 

Al’s faith is rooted in the sovereignty of God.  He is certain that God was responsible for his illness, and he supported his belief with the Biblical teaching that all of our days are written and established before one of them has happened.  Therefore, he accepted the stroke as a marker on the road he was destined to travel.  I suggested a comparison with Job where God allowed the devil to persecute him.  Al did not agree, simply stating “because Christ has ransomed us.”  He said that God’s purpose is to glorify his son, and that God is dedicated to transforming each believer into the image of Christ.  Al also hoped that his illness would benefit someone, and his stroke would not be wasted.  I assured him that he had inspired me, and if I ever were to become ill, I would find a positive role model in him.

After almost 5 weeks, Al transferred to Encore at Turf Valley  to complete his final phase of inpatient rehabilitation.  Encore is located across the street from his church, and he was able to attend Sunday service.  As I sat with him during his last evening at Encore, I wondered what, if anything, in our Pastoral Counseling program could have prepared him to negotiate his life-changing event with such a positive attitude.  Al had acknowledged earlier feelings of despondency, and his fear of being handicapped for the rest of his life.  However, his faith helped him to set aside those thoughts and focus on healing.  And as I looked into his eyes as he spoke, I understood that I had found my answer.  Al’s ability to use his faith to effect healing was pastoral.

Al is at home now, and after two months of being cared for by others, he is testing his independence.  On his first day at home, he posted:  “Today, I am at home.  I made a pot of coffee.  I had breakfast, cleaning up after myself.  I am using a walker around the house, trying to remember to go slowly and to stay safe. But, I’m smiling.”  Al’s sense of purpose, his personal strength, and his faith in God continue to be strong, and have helped him through difficult times.  He still has a way to go to complete his healing, but his prognosis is good.  As I look back on Al’s journey, I am proud to have been his classmate, and to call him my friend.