Author Archives: Allison Peet

Remote Group Spiritual Direction for Caring Professionals on Zoom

Beginning May 8, 2020
Fridays: 1:00-2:30PM
These are stressful, uncertain times, and caring professionals are working hard to find new ways to respond to the needs of others in this changing context. To care well for those we serve, we have to tend to our own well-being. This group will offer opportunities for encouragement and support as we practice listening well to ourselves, one another and the Sacred. It is open to those engaged in supporting others, including faith leaders, chaplains, spiritual directors and mental health professionals. All spiritual perspectives are welcome.
To include those who have been financially impacted by this crisis, this group is being offered for a self-selected fee ($0-$180 for 6 sessions or $0-$30/session) based on your available resources. Group meetings will take place through Zoom video conference on Fridays from 1:00 to 2:30, beginning May 8. The group will meet weekly for the first three sessions and then decide together to meet weekly or biweekly for the remaining three.



Please contact:


Andrea Severson at:

or Christine Dietz at: for more information.

Women Helping Women – Domestic Abuse

Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center presents the 22nd Annual Women Helping Women event on Friday, May 15, 2020, 11:30 a.m. (Facebook event here.) For the safety of the community, in consideration of coronavirus (COVID-19), the event will be held online. Our “virtual” gathering recognizes the need for continued support for uninsured and underinsured women and children. Domestic abuse, the theme of this year’s initiative, brings to our attention a plight suffered by countless women, children, men, elders, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ individuals.

Mary Riche, this year’s Honoree, points out “This year’s luncheon is even more important to the Center’s ongoing fundraising efforts because of the coronavirus pandemic. Participating in a virtual luncheon will make the 2020 WHW unforgettable!” For updates and information about accessing the event, please visit The website is updated as new details become available.

Mary said, “Asking for help and naming a problem is a necessary, often emotionally painful first step to transformational change.” She emphasizes, “This is especially important for victims of abuse, because it takes immense personal courage for victims to reach out and begin the process of counseling.” She stated, “Jackie Servellon’s personal story of hope and healing as a survivor of domestic violence draws attention to this problem that may worsen since life, as we know it, has been halted and altered.”

Keynote Speaker Jackie Servellon, owner of Balloon Bar DSM, shares her experience of violent domestic abuse from parents with drug abuse and mental health problems. She said sharing her story, though “sad and shocking,” contributes to her healing. “Mental health is infinitely as important as personal safety,” she said, pointing out, “Conversation stops at [victim] safety.” She went on to say, “Mental health does not heal itself, and low-income women don’t have access to care and other resources.”

Domestic abuse hits close to home for me. I grew up in an era in which American culture recognized “wife beating,” and deemed it a family matter. No one considered emotional abuse, or the damage done to the victims’ mental health. I did not realize for many years that what I experienced in my childhood, adolescence, and adult life was, in fact, abuse. My experiences were emotionally painful, but I thought they were my fault which I have learned is common among victims. As an adult, I adhered to the belief that I could not have been abused because my experiences were not physical. My therapist here at the Center gently helps me discover and claim my strengths, my accomplishments, and my humanity, as he stresses self-compassion, and self-acceptance. He supports, encourages, and helps me celebrate my progress no matter how small. Recognizing and assigning the abusers’ responsibility was a huge step for me. I take ownership of my part in the relationship, but only mine. Today, I am confronting the memories and working to heal from them. The survival skills I developed as a child continue to inform my personality—thoughts, beliefs, decisions, behaviors. I grieve the loss of what I needed in the relationships but could not get from others as well as the loss in the termination of relationships with people I had cared about.

Sadly, not much has changed since those early days. When someone describes her or his experience with emotional, psychological, financial, deprivation, isolation, withholding affection, others often dismiss their story as trivial because they do not see injury and scars. Indeed, all domestic abuse results in invisible scars that may affect the victim for the rest of her or his life.

Domestic abuse is active and prevalent in 2020, yet we hear little about it. We become aware only when sensational or high-profile situations make the headlines, or someone publishes a best-selling book—fiction or nonfiction. Then the issue retreats into the periphery of our collective consciousness. Domestic abuse, no respecter of race, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, age, or disability, is ever-present in the lives of victims. Emotionally stable and strong individuals find themselves battling feelings of helplessness and worthlessness.

Often, people think of domestic abuse only in the context of domestic violence. Domestic abuse and domestic violence are interchangeable terms in that both are used to convey the same types of behaviors. Domestic abuse exists in myriad variations of the following forms:

  1. Physical, which includes barring the victim from medical care or forcing victim to use drugs or alcohol.
  2. Sexual, which includes coercion or attempts to coerce in addition to violent attacks and exploitation.
  3. Emotional, which includes decimating the victim’s sense of self and impairing victim’s relationships with family, friends, and others.
  4. Economic, which includes controlling or attempting to control financial activities, withholding financial support, and removing money from victim’s accounts against the victim’s will or without the victim’s permission.
  5. Psychological, which includes intimidation, threats of harm to victim or people or situations important to the victim— the victim’s employment, children, pets, other family members, close friends, etc.—and isolation from family, friends, and support system.

The current protective measures against coronavirus (COVID-19) place victims in their homes with their abusers for prolonged periods. Loss of income, the effects of quarantine, and the stress around the pandemic add tension to already volatile households. Around the world, advocates report distressing rises in reported domestic abuse cases. Victims have fewer places to go as employees of safe places are now also in quarantine leaving agencies with limited or nonexistent staff onsite. The result is locked-out buildings, long hold times for calls, and fewer staff to investigate. Law enforcement report similar problems.

Apart from the shame the abusers heap on victims, the victims experience shame for a host of reasons: 1) they failed ability to please the abuser; 2) bewilderment for getting into the situation; 3) they believe they have let themselves and their family down. Family members, friends, law enforcement and social services workers may underestimate the abuser’s power over the victim. As a result, they may further injure the victim’s fragile self-worth by ridiculing and blaming the victim for the circumstances in which they find themselves and downplay the victim’s precarious circumstances and mental and emotional states.

Abusers are cunning, intuitive, manipulative, and patient—until the victim is hooked. They know what their prey wants to hear and how to shame or intimidate her or him into doing what they want. They know how to threaten what is important to the person. Abusers either instill feelings of low self-worth in the victim or reinforce beliefs already in place. For these reasons, extrication from relationships can be extremely difficult and often dangerous. While abusers may have deep-seated insecurities and fears as well as their own history of abuse, they are responsible for addressing their needs rather than projecting them onto others. However, abusers often crave the intoxicating feelings of power, control, and domination over others. When they feel threatened or self-doubt, they resort to familiar means to relieve their stress.

We all can help in the effort to eradicate domestic abuse. 1) Question the appearance of new injuries; 2) Pay attention to signs of changes in the person’s mental health state; 3) Be aware of changes in someone’s behavior, communication, or questionable fixation on a partner, particularly if the relationship is new or recently altered, e.g. the partner is recently released from incarceration, home from a prolonged absence, newly divorced, married, etc.; 4) Believe the victim is telling the truth; 5) Learn about resources and safety measures that minimize further harm.; 5) Enlist assistance to remove the abuser from the home.

If you or someone you know is at risk or affected by domestic abuse, the resources listed below are available.

  • The Center plays a vital role in the hope and healing for people suffering the effects of domestic abuse. Mary Riche affirmed, “The counselors at DMPCC are skilled practitioners with wisdom and expertise to walk alongside all clients in a safe, non-judgmental environment. For information and to schedule an appointment, visit, call 515-274-4006 or email

Jackie Servillon said, “DMPCC’s funding is how we support the community and save lives. We bury communities by limiting access to mental health care.”

  • Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence 4725 Merle Hay Rd Suite 107, Des Moines, IA 50322 (515) 244-8028
  • Children & Families of Iowa 1111 University Ave, Des Moines, IA 50314
    (515) 288-1981
  • Your community’s emergency services Call 911


  • Signs of domestic violence or abuse

  • Differentiating Between Domestic Violence and Abuse

  • 5 Types of Abuse, Domestic Violence FAQ

  • In quarantine with an abuser: surge in domestic violence reports linked to coronavirus

  • Safety Tips

  • 9 Ways to Help a Victim of Domestic Violence

Billie Wade, writer

For more of Billie’s blog posts – CLICK HERE

Tips for Nurturing and Protecting Children at Home

This article was written by

Tips for nurturing and protecting children at home
Child Mind Institute

Parents everywhere are struggling to keep children healthy and occupied. If you’re anxious about how to protect and nurture kids through this crisis — often juggling work obligations at the same time — you’re in good (virtual) company. I know, as I write this from home, with my 2-year-old hovering, that we have a lot to figure out.  Here are tips from the Child Mind Institute’s clinicians to help calm fears, manage stress and keep the peace.

Keep routines in place
The experts all agree that setting and sticking to a regular schedule is key, even when you’re all at home all day. Kids should get up, eat and go to bed at their normal times. Consistency and structure are calming during times of stress. Kids, especially younger ones or those who are anxious, benefit from knowing what’s going to happen and when.

The schedule can mimic a school or day camp schedule, changing activities at predictable intervals, and alternating periods of study and play.

It may help to print out a schedule and go over it as a family each morning. Setting a timer will help kids know when activities are about to begin or end. Having regular reminders will help head off meltdowns when it’s time to transition from one thing to the next.

Be creative about new activities — and exercise
Incorporate new activities into your routine, like doing a puzzle or having family game time in the evening. For example, my family is baking our way through a favorite dessert cookbook together with my daughter as sous chef.

Build in activities that help everyone get some exercise (without contact with other kids or things touched by other kids, like playground equipment). Take a daily family walk or bike ride or do yoga — great ways to let kids burn off energy and make sure everyone is staying active.

David Anderson, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, recommends brainstorming ways to go “back to the 80s,” before the time of screen prevalence. “I’ve been asking parents to think about their favorite activities at summer camp or at home before screens,” he says. “They often then generate lists of arts and crafts activities, science projects, imaginary games, musical activities, board games, household projects, etc.”

Manage your own anxiety
It’s completely understandable to be anxious right now (how could we not be?) but how we manage that anxiety has a big impact on our kids. Keeping your worries in check will help your whole family navigate this uncertain situation as easily as possible.

“Watch out for catastrophic thinking,” says Mark Reinecke, PhD, a clinical psychologist with the Child Mind Institute. For example, assuming every cough is a sign you’ve been infected, or reading news stories that dwell on worst-case scenarios. “Keep a sense of perspective, engage in solution-focused thinking and balance this with mindful acceptance.”

For those moments when you do catch yourself feeling anxious, try to avoid talking about your concerns within earshot of children. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, step away and take a break. That could look like taking a shower or going outside or into another room and taking a few deep breaths.

Limit consumption of news
Staying informed is important, but it’s a good idea to limit consumption of news and social media that has the potential to feed your anxiety, and that of your kids. Turn the TV off and mute or unfollow friends or co-workers who are prone to sharing panic-inducing posts.

Take a social media hiatus or make a point of following accounts that share content that take your mind off the crisis, whether it’s about nature, art, baking or crafts.

Stay in touch virtually
Keep your support network strong, even when you’re only able to call or text friends and family. Socializing plays an important role in regulating your mood and helping you stay grounded. And the same is true for your children.

Let kids use social media (within reason) and Skype or FaceTime to stay connected to peers even if they aren’t usually allowed to do so. Communication can help kids feel less alone and mitigate some of the stress that comes from being away from friends.

Technology can also help younger kids feel closer to relatives or friends they can’t see at the moment. My parents video chat with their granddaughter every night and read her a (digital) bedtime story. It’s not perfect, but it helps us all feel closer and less stressed.

Make plans
In the face of events that are scary and largely out of our control, it’s important to be proactive about what you can control. Making plans helps you visualize the near future. How can your kids have virtual play dates? What can your family do that would be fun outside? What are favorite foods you can cook during this time? Make lists that kids can add to. Seeing you problem solve in response to this crisis can be instructive and reassuring for kids.

Even better, assign kids tasks that will help them feel that they are part of the plan and making a valuable contribution to the family.

Keep it positive
Though adults are feeling apprehensive, to most children the words “School’s closed” are cause for celebration. “My kid was thrilled when he found out school would be closing,” says Rachel Busman, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. Parents, she says, should validate that feeling of excitement and use it as a springboard to help kids stay calm and happy.

Let kids know that you’re glad they’re excited, but make sure they understand that though it may feel like vacations they’ve had in the past, things will be different this time. For example, Dr. Busman suggests, “It’s so cool to have everyone home together. We’re going to have good time! Remember, though, we’ll still be doing work and sticking to a regular schedule.”

Keep kids in the loop — but keep it simple
“Talking to children in a clear, reasonable way about what’s going on is the best way to help them understand,” says Dr. Busman. “But remember kids don’t need to know every little thing.” Unless kids ask specifically, there’s no reason to volunteer information that might worry them.

For example, our two-year-old daughter Alice is used to seeing her grandparents regularly, but right now we’re keeping our distance to make sure everyone stays safe. When she asks about them we say: “We won’t see Grandma and Grandpa this week but we will see them soon!” We don’t say: “We’re staying away from Grandma and Grandpa because we could get them sick.” Older kids can handle — and expect — more detail, but you should still be thoughtful about what kinds of information you share with them.

Check in with little kids
Young children may be oblivious to the facts of the situation, but they may still feel unsettled by the changes in routine, or pick up on the fact that people around them are worried and upset. Plan to check in with younger children periodically and give them the chance to process any worries they may be having. Children who are tantruming more than usual, being defiant or acting out may actually be feeling anxious. Pick a calm, undistracted time and gently ask how they’re feeling and make sure to respond to outbursts in a calm, consistent, comforting way.

Sometimes the path of least resistance is the right path
Remember to be reasonable and kind to yourself. We all want to be our best parenting selves as much as we can, but sometimes that best self is the one that says, “Go for it,” when a kid asks for more time on the iPad. My daughter is watching Elmo’s World — and possibly drawing on the wall — as I write this. That shrill red Muppet is the only reason I’m able to write at all.

“We should forgive ourselves the image of perfection that we normally aspire to as parents,” says Dr. Anderson. “Maybe your kids don’t have TV or screens on the weeknights during the school year, but now that school is cancelled or online, we can give ourselves license to relax these boundaries a bit.  We can explain to our kids that this is a unique situation and re-institute boundaries once more when life returns to normal.”

Accept and ask for help
If you have a partner at home, agree that you’ll trade off when it comes to childcare. Especially if one or both of you are working from home and have younger children. That way everyone gets a break and some breathing room.

Everyone who can pitch in, should. Give kids age appropriate jobs. For example, teens might be able to help mind younger siblings when both parents have to work. Most children can set the table, help keep communal spaces clean, do dishes or take out the trash. Even toddlers can learn to pick up their own toys. Working as a team will help your whole family stay busy and make sure no one person (Mom) is overwhelmed.

“Be creative and be flexible,” says Dr. Busman, “and try not to be hard on yourself. You have to find a balance that works for your family. The goal should be to stay sane and stay safe.”


Be Not Afraid

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

The scriptures of my faith tradition ooze with admonitions to “Fear Not.” “Be not afraid” is among the most consistent quotes, certainly in excess of 100 times.

I find myself repeating the phrase as our world faces the COVID19 pandemic. In spite of the recitation, the emotion resists releasing its grip on my body, mind and spirit. I worry about the health of my family and colleagues. I wonder about how to best lead the Center in such challenging times. What to do with all this fear and anxiety?

A few quotes to start. There are lots of places in the Tanakh or Christian scriptures if you’re looking for help:

If that’s not your cup of tea, how about some wisdom figures:

 “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”  – Albert Einstein:

“The sovereign cure for worry is prayer.”  -William James:

My quote from last month’s blog, Anne Lamott: “HELP!”

Sage words provide a bit of comfort. Poetry often consoles me even more. Here’s a favorite:

“The Peace of Wild Things”
Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


Next on the menu is a mindfulness exercise from one of the most famous practitioners in the business, Tara Brach. She has written extensively about how to manage fear and anxiety through an exercise summed up with the acronym RAIN. As she puts it in a recent blog post:

“Learning to directly face anxiety and fear with the RAIN meditation—Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Nurture—gives you a pathway to inner transformation and a fearless heart.”

Basically, she asks us to keep things real by recognizing our emotions, which means we need to pay attention. We need to be ok with allowing the emotions to be a part of our day to day, not judging them as good or bad. If you’re feeling afraid, so be it. The investigation asks us to pay attention to what happens when we’re experiencing the emotion, especially in our bodies. Tension? Where? How?  Finally, Brach asks us to treat that part of ourselves with compassion and to continually nurture self-compassion, especially in times of challenge.

Does any of this help? Maybe you could share in comments what’s been working for you.

The most comforting sentiment for me is not the command to “Fear not”, but the clause that follows. Jesus said, “Be not afraid, Fear not, ‘I am with you.'” That’s the part that brings me the most comfort and helps me to make meaning of all this. Relationships. I am with you. How can we be present to one another in an age of crisis and social isolation? Prayer is a form of relational conversation that keeps us close to the comforting presence of the source of creation. Reaching out to shut ins who lack necessary social ties brings comfort to both parties. Paying attention to one another as waves of fear and anxiety wash over us at different times will help us through. We’re going to do our best to be present to one another at the Center and the people we serve whether it’s in person or across a screen provided by technology. It’s our mission:

To walk with people through counseling and education to find hope and healing, and live a fulfilling life.

Let us walk together.

How Self-Compassion Sets Us on a Path of Freedom

Many of us understand compassion—empathy, kindness, gentleness, comforting, and open-heartedness. We often show compassion and caring for others who are suffering yet hesitate when we consider it for ourselves. We may be confused about what self-compassion is, the benefits, how to apply it to our life, or have some misgivings about side effects.

Self-compassion is difficult for me. The process encourages me to view mistakes, failures, shortcomings, and imperfections through the lens of benevolence and gentleness toward myself. My usual reaction to adversity is humiliation and defeat because I believe I did not try hard enough, discounting how much time, energy, emotional investment, and whole-hearted passion I infused into the project. Thoughts and beliefs that tell me I am inadequate as a human being fill my mind. Mistakes, failures, and shortcomings glow with a blinding intensity and pile onto an already enormous heap. Depression and anxiety symptoms increase and my sense of self-worth plummets. When I say words of solace to myself, they sound abrasive and insincere. They are hard to hear in my voice. When other people offer words of compassion, they affirm they are attentive and care about me, connect with me, and give me permission to engage with and express my feelings even if their support is unspoken. Self-compassion offers me the gift of giving that same kindness, gentleness, and support to myself, as I give to others when they are hurting.

Self-compassion is not letting ourselves off the hook nor is it ignoring or discounting the situation or looking on the bright side of things. Rather, it means we acknowledge the reality of the situation and recognize all humans experience disappointments and make mistakes. It does not mean we wallow in self-pity which keeps us stuck in our pain. Instead, we free ourselves to acknowledge the full range of our emotional distress and express it safely. Self-compassion does not take away our want and need to act. Rather, it equips us with knowledge and insight that help us move forward. We look for the lesson in the disappointment, failure, or shortcoming and change what we can. Our plight becomes clear and options arise.

Self-compassion does not foster narcissistic ideas and behaviors. We do not get into the rumination loop that awfulizes our experience. Self-compassion acknowledges our vulnerability and our human propensity to make mistakes and experience the sting of misfortune. We neither elevate ourselves with words of grandiosity nor do we demean ourselves with words of judgment.

Testament to our common humanity, we are all subject to the inevitable unpredictability of life. We all have disappointments, mistakes, failures, shortcomings, and characteristics we wish we could change. Self-compassion helps us see those elements through eyes of kindness and gentleness and comforting, like draping a beloved blanket or quilt over our lap rather than punishing ourselves with judgment. With the necessary element of mindfulness, we view the reality of our circumstance without further emotional harm. Our thoughts do not take over our mind; we regulate our thoughts.

When we are unaccustomed to self-nurturing, our attempts to override ingrained beliefs may give us senses of coddling or untruth. Self-doubt may arise and tell us we are in delusion or denial. Hurtful messages about us whether they come from others or from ourselves, may make the initial practice of self-compassion awkward. Failures and conclusions of inadequacy seem too big and impossible to overcome. I counter supportive messages with words of self-doubt such as, “Yeah, right,” in a condescending tone. Old, ingrained messages die hard. Realizing the benefits of self-compassion takes practice. As we become more accustomed to the words we need for relief, we can conduct a self-compassion exercise anywhere, anytime, in a matter of seconds.

So, how do we practice self-compassion? In whatever way works for us. My practice invites me to:

  1. Recognize I am experiencing a hurtful situation.
  2. Acknowledge the pain as genuine and honor and safely express my feelings.
  3. Remember that I am human and all humans experience difficulties, setbacks, disappointments, mistakes, and shortcomings.
  4. Ask myself what I need. What words do I need to comfort me? Sometimes, I need stillness and solitude. Other times, I need the kind words I would say to a friend. Or, I may need to journal. I can say reassurances such as, “I care about you and will be here as you face this situation”; “This is frightening, but I know we can get through this.” (I use the term “we” to let my inner self know I support her.); “May I be safe, may I be well, may I be at peace.” I work to send messages of well wishes to everyone involved. While not always easy, the practice can bring relief and tranquility.
  5. In my new peaceful state, I can assess the situation and my position and work toward resolution whether that means solving the problem, coming to an understanding, gaining clarity, or extricating myself.
  6. Another tip is self-touch: gently stroke the back of your hand or forearm. The warmth of your touch can soothe you.

Self-compassion melds acknowledgment and safe expression of our pain, recognition of our common humanity, and mindfulness toward approaching our experience with kindness and tenderness. We support of ourselves with the same caring we share with others. Our suffering diminishes in frequency, intensity, and duration. Serenity, joy, and resilience enter our lives.

May you be well. May you be safe. May you be at peace.

For more of Billie’s blogs, click HERE.

Billie Wade, writer

Se Habla Español

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

Se habla español.

 We are fortunate at the Center to have a number of native Spanish speakers. We are unfortunate in that we only have one counselor whose first language is Spanish. We are blessed to have Alicia! We are grateful, but aware that we could be doing so much more. Frankly, the needs are overwhelming.

Many of you know that I have a background in ministry and teaching. Along the way I’ve been fortunate to learn other languages and serve immigrant communities.

If you take a look at our website, you’ll see an entire section allocated to Spanish speaking stakeholders. We have been intentional in hiring practices recently and are grateful to have bilingual support staff to help clients and families with limited English skills. I am particularly grateful for connections we have with refugee services who helped to train one of our staff, but we could be doing so much more.

We have established a relationship with LUNA Iowa and their executive director, Melissa Cano Zelaya, to work with their clients who need mental health support. Here’s a description of their work from their website:

“L.U.N.A (Latinas Unidas Por Un Nuevo Amanacer)  Iowa was created in 1999 by a group of domestic abuse survivors who noticed the lack of resources available to the LatinX community in Iowa. Since then L.U.N.A Iowa has evolved into a state-wide organization with offices in Des Moines and Marshalltown, helping our survivors build a future free of violence.”

Many of these folks have suffered unspeakable trauma and I am glad we are here to help, but we could be doing so much more.

Look at the news most any day and you’ll hear some comment about the mental health crisis in Iowa. You can magnify that crisis by a massive number when it comes to access for non-English speakers. Many of these communities suffer from a lack a basic resources and mental health is certainly one. What makes this situation particularly unfortunate is that the stresses on these communities, combined with higher levels of stigma, means that those acutely in need of mental health services are not able to access them.

We appreciate the help of our community in supporting our client assistance funds so that we can help as many as we can regardless of ability to pay. We are also in need of help when it comes to workforce development of bilingual clinicians so that we can provide services to clients for whom English is not their first language. What else do we need?

  • A world that welcomes the stranger.
  • An openness to learning about other cultures.
  • Reimbursement rates that allow for a living wage so that more and diverse people consider this rewarding career.
  • Support for our training program to equip future generations of counselors with necessary skills.
  • Advocacy to improve services
  • Awareness that the need for our mission of providing hope and healing is greater than ever.

I hope these musings about just one issue indicate how much more we have to do together. Thank you for all you do to make this work possible.

To read more of Jim’s blogs, click HERE.

Remote Statewide Spiritual Director’s Gathering

During this time of deep care for one another, the spring regional gathering of spiritual directors in Des Moines will be offered by Zoom rather than in-person.  The day will be shortened, the fee adjusted to reflect whatever you are able to contribute, and the topics more relevant than ever!  We will offer practice for those who are unfamiliar with using Zoom. All you need is a computer, tablet, I-pad or cell phone with a camera and microphone.  The event offered through the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center will provide opportunities to gather for continuing education and mutual support during these challenging times.

Date:  Monday, May 18, 2020

Time:  Sign on begins at 8:45AM.  A link will be sent to those who register.  Welcome and Opening Circle begins at 9:00AM.  We’ll end at 2:30 PM

Fee:  We know that finances may be impacted during these times.  When you register, you will have the opportunity  to choose how much you are able to pay.  If you are unable to contribute, join us!  If you are able to pay a little more, any excess will help support future spiritual direction events.

Presentation Descriptions

Morning Presentation:  A Vision for Self-Care in Emerging Times

Times are rapidly changing. The planet needs us. Creatures need us. Our bodies need us. And our fellow humans need us. In a time of such great need, how can we intentionally begin (and continue) our listening and giving ministries by caring for ourselves in a way that aligns with the emerging needs and cries of our times? Join us for a discussion about the nature and practice of self-care and how it directly serves not only ourselves, but all things. We will also explore possible practices for us to incorporate into our own lives and perhaps offer to those we serve.

Presenter:  Victoria L. Gloe has been working in the health and wellness world for over 20 years. She holds an M.S. in Health Fitness Management from American University along with a certificate from the Renovaré Institute for Christian Spiritual Formation. Victoria is also a certified yoga instructor and she recently completed her spiritual direction training through PrairieFire. After working in a variety of settings including corporate wellness, fitness, advocacy, church ministry, and as a homeschooling mom, she now find herself offering what she can to help further health, healing, wellness and listening in a world that seems to desperately need it. Her primary hope and passion is to support people on the healing journey, the journey to whole living. She finds it a privilege to companion others in multi-faceted ways as they grow in fullness of life through a vibrant relationship with God. And, this, of course, leads to a vibrant relationship with all of life in all its textures!

Afternoon Workshop:  (Please choose one)

Belonging: Dynamics within the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises Retreat in Everyday Life using Ignatian Imaginative Prayer and Contemplative Dialogue; a path towards healing.

This workshop will use several meditations using Ignatian imaginative prayer by personally entering into the Gospel story. Gary will share about his own experiences within the retreat framework as to dynamic of healing within a group setting where there is no judgement as we faithfully walk our spiritual journeys together. He will draw heavily upon the work of the authors Matthew, Dennis and Sheila Linn where they highlight the need to “belong” as the basis for all addictions and therefore when we provide spaces of belonging it allows healing to take place.

Gary A.T. Guthrie has been practicing spiritual direction since 1997 after receiving a certificate of S.D.  from the S.D. Institute centered in the St. Joseph Ed Center at Dowling H.S. Des Moines, Iowa. While Gary believes there are many paths to God – he resonates deeply with the Ignatian Imaginative path. He is also an organic vegetable farmer dedicating his life to nourishment in all its forms for God’s creation.


The Promise of Pain: How to Bring Hope in the Face of Suffering

In this workshop we will learn how a Spiritual Companion can walk with someone facing emotional or physical pain, what to avoid, and spiritual practices that help us manage and soothe pain.

Presenter:  Dr. Lisa Van Allen is a clinical psychologist who has been a spiritual director since 1995. Over the last 5 years, she has been living with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, a rare neurological condition that is considered to be the most painful disease known to modern medicine. Her spiritual practices have allowed her to reduce her need for medication, strengthened her relationships, and restored and renewed her faith. Lisa facilitates a support group for others suffering from CRPS, and offers spiritual companionship and coaching services to people living with pain. She is currently working on a book about Spiritual Companionship with people in pain.

Schedule for the Day

8:45:  Sign-on to Zoom

9:00:  Opening Meditation and “Circle” Check-in

10:00:  Morning Presentation:  A Vision for Self-Care in Emerging Times. Presenter:  Victoria Gloe

12:00:  Lunch

12:30:  Workshop (Choose one)
Belonging: Dynamics within the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises Retreat in Everyday Life…
Presenter:  Gary Guthrie

The Promise of Pain: How to Bring Hope in the Face of Suffering
Presenter:  Lisa Van Allen

2:00:  Closing


Diane McClanahan, M.Div., Director of Leadership and Spiritual Life at the Center

For more information:
contact Diane McClanahan at: 515-251-6667 or

All PrairieFire Event for Graduates, Participants and Staff

Hold the Date!  October 3rd is set as the new date for the AllPrairieFire event at Neil Smith Prairie Learning Center.  The registration link will be reopened this summer.  Registrations that have already been received will be applied to the new date.  If you are unable to participate on October 3rd and would like a refund, please contact Diane McClanahan at (You may also consider donating your refund to the PrairieFire Scholarship Fund)

Saturday, October 3, 2020
Neal Smith Prairie Learning Center
9981 Pacific St, Prairie City, IA 50228-7820

Why Gather?
• To tend the spark that was lit during PrairieFire experience
• To nourish the soul work we’ve engaged
• To connect with fellow pilgrims and crosspollinate across cohorts
• To fertilize and plant seeds for future growth

The Day will include time for personal reflection in the Prairie, sharing with one another, and enjoying a meal together. Dress comfortably!

Fee: $25

Gifts to the PrairieFire Fund are greatly appreciated!
Feel free to donate at the event as well!


Self-Awareness: Your Key to a Conscious Life

Billie Wade, writer

Self-awareness is our perception of ourselves and our relationship with the rest of the world. We are more open and intimate with some people than we are with others. We make decisions, often without thinking. The same mistakes or habits recur, sending us into a tailspin of self-recrimination. Self-awareness places us in a better position to find problems and solutions. When we improve our self-awareness, we make conscious decisions, monitor behavior, and lead a life of genuineness and integrity.

Self-awareness fascinates me. I am innately and profoundly drawn to explore human development, mine and others. My family discouraged feelings, whether happy or sad. I learned to stifle my feelings and muffle their expression. Self-defeating behaviors held my feelings in check. Over time, I lost touch with my feelings which resulted in dire consequences. Through years of journaling and counseling, I thought my self-awareness and sense of self were rather good. But each time I take a deeper look within, more evidence reveals that much remains for me to learn. I engage in beliefs and behaviors that annoy me and defy my best efforts to eradicate them. Some have been with me many years. And, so it goes with most people. We all have habits, beliefs, and idiosyncrasies we want to change or eliminate.

I identified basic feelings when I joined a Twelve-step group in my early forties. There, people talked discussed sad, angry, scared, hurt, guilty, embarrassed, ashamed. They focused on the harm done to them by others and how those experiences shaped their self-awareness. Several years later I began to look at my responsibility for the decisions I made and the ways I tried to cope with emotional distress. When I ventured into the recesses of my “dark” side, I found beliefs, feelings, attitudes, and intentions of which I had been unconscious. Now, deep introspection helps me clarify what I need and how I want to experience my existence. Insights unfold for me to examine and embrace.

The process of self-awareness is an ever-evolving essential guide to how we live, and interact with others, and respond to stressful circumstances. Gaining insight into our inner life is a process of personal growth and development—mental, emotional, spiritual, social and physical. We take an honest, nonjudgmental look at our needs, desires, successes, failures, losses, strengths, and limitations. Our characteristics and attributes reveal themselves. Self-awareness helps us answer questions such as “Why do I keep doing this?” Whole billion-dollar industries are built on weight loss and financial independence. Many diets and wealth-building strategies fail because they do not address the deeply entrenched feelings and beliefs. The answers lie in our subconscious mind.

The introspection that leads to self-awareness is not an easy or simple task. Facing ourselves demands willingness, honesty, tenacity, and a healthy dose of courage. We may be led into places we do not want to go. Self-examination may be an emotionally stressful trek through buried memories. We may have avoided parts of our life because they are painful or shameful. The journey into the unknown can be frightening. When we encounter difficult memories or feelings, self-compassion is foremost and crucial. This does not mean we make excuses for ourselves or others. Rather, we listen to ourselves without judgment and censoring even as we may feel the full brunt of the suppressed feelings. We discuss our plan with someone we trust to support our effort. That person can support you as you explore your internal landscape. Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center clinical staff are skilled in assisting clients on their path of healing and wholeness; click here to get started. The revelations are worth the journey. We learn how we developed a shield to protect ourselves from emotional distress. Change can be difficult but cannot happen if we are unaware of the problem and how it formed.

But, how can we cultivate self-awareness? We start by asking deep reflective questions relating to who we are, what we want, and how we react to others. Several years ago, I created a list of questions to ask myself, and I have added to the list since then. “What fascinates me?” “What about life am I questioning?” “What does healthy mean to me?” My list has grown to fifty-four questions which I sometimes use as journaling prompts. You can ask these questions in your journaling, counseling, and spiritual practice. Or, you may choose to delve into an emotionally charged situation. It is common for initial questions to lead deeper, more challenging questions. In time, you learn that you will be okay, and the experience has set you on a path of transformation. Introspection is quite possibly the most powerful journey you will undertake. Solutions to problems may emerge as you discover your ability to manage circumstances that formerly baffled you.

A ritual I use for self-exploration can be adapted to your needs and comfort:

  • Approach your journey into self-awareness in small steps. What are you looking for in a particular event? What are you looking for—peace, comforting, insight, clarity, relief?
  • Get physically comfortable where you will not be interrupted or distracted;
  • Set the mood, if you like, with music, candles, or incense;
  • Read an inspiring quote or passage from a book or sacred text;
  • Make a list of questions you want to explore or, chose a question from an existing list;
  • Set a timer for 5-10 minutes, if you choose, and allow yourself to relax into the quiet;
  • Let the question sink into your subconscious;
  • Try to allow the insight or epiphany to arise without judgment or emotional engagement;
  • When you are ready, write your insights without regard to punctuation, grammar, spelling, etc.’
  • Review your writing to find the golden nuggets of wisdom that surfaced;
  • Give yourself time to let the revelation develop;
  • Connect with the person you trust;
  • Begin to take small steps to integrate the lesson or message into your life.

You can now decide how you want to move forward with your discovery. Consider how the change will impact your life for the better for you and the people important to you. Consider who can help you continue your journey of self-discovery as your self-awareness grows. Allow your newly acquired transformation to unfold gradually. It takes as long as it takes. Recently, I explored an emotionally traumatic series of events that defined my life for many years. While self-assessment is difficult, I experienced clarity and peace with what happened.

Self-awareness determines how we perceive ourselves and others and the events that inform our lives. Situations and the level of intimacy we have with others depend on our interpretation of happened or is happening. As we bravely explore our beliefs, feelings, and behaviors, we discover who we really are and ways to better manage our lives. We become our best friend.

May your journey of self-discovery lead you into truth, clarity, joy, and peace.


To read more of Billie’s blogs, CLICK HERE.


James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

But wait, there’s more!

Writer Anne Lamott has been a great spiritual companion of mine—along with a few million others who enjoy her books. Her treatise on prayer, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers (2012), provides a simple vocabulary to capture the varieties of prayer forms. I offer this short reflection using her construct to help us all understand a little better what life is like here at the Center and to recognize how dependent we are in order to live this mission faithfully.


This sentiment often provides the genesis of relationships with the Center. Those we serve have reached a point in their lives that requires some kind of companionship to help them through a time of crisis. We walk with them as they explore stories of grief, trauma, fractured relationships and any number of narratives—many of which would have been left untold if possible. It’s good to have someone to listen in such times. Our counselors are often an answer to prayers.

Help is certainly the easiest concept of prayer to grasp. We reach out to our god or higher power in hopes that someone is out there listening to the longing of our hearts to find a way through a difficult time. It comes naturally to most—especially to those with foxhole experience.

Help is also a verb we use regularly around here when it comes to seeking the resources we need to carry out our mission. We fundraisers on our team don’t hesitate to seek help from others as we would not be able to serve others were it not for the support of a loving community. You may have received a letter from us recently asking for help. My prayer is that it will inspire a gracious response!


Gratitude is the foundation of many of my reflections in this newsletter. It happens pretty easily each day as I look at the inspiring work of our staff who respond to requests for help in a variety of ways: from the hospitality of those who receive anyone coming through the door, to the energy provided in the daily counseling sessions. Bookkeepers, billers, administrators and all the rest care deeply about this effort.

We also experience thanksgiving from those we serve. We regularly hear the phrase “you saved my life” around here. People entrust us with their lives and as they traverse the arduous journey to hope and healing. They often arrive on the other side with hearts full of gratitude. Newfound hope gives life to gratitude.

We produce lots of thank you notes here at the Center. That’s because we have so many people who support our efforts. Prayers of gratitude for such a loving community come naturally.


There is nothing better than a moment of awe. For me, these moments of prayer/reflection/awareness aren’t as frequent as cries for help and experiences of gratitude, but they sure are profound. Just a few such moments can nourish an entire life.  Examples often happen in nature. Just ask anyone who’s scaled a mountain, been tossed by a wave or seen the brilliance of the sun rising and setting.

We also work hard here at the Center to increase awareness for each of us at the wonder of each moment. Wow helps us to work with anxious minds through simple acts of paying attention to the wonder of each breath, each sense, each second. Some spiritual writers talk about paying attention to the “everlasting now.” Each tick of each day is all that we have. Enjoy them.

I am wowed that the Center has been around for almost 50 years, doing really important work. Step back and think about all the lives transformed by this place and there is no word to capture the story better than WOW!


I stray from Lamott on this one. For some reason an important sentiment or prayer for me has been to surrender or abandon myself to the present moment. Each day brings with it joys and challenges and it seems that part of the secret to a full life is to simply say “yes” to what the day has to offer. A quote that has always inspired me comes from Dag Hammarskjold’s book, Markings. If you’ve not heard of it, the book is a collection of his journaled thoughts that was discovered and published posthumously after Dag, the secretary general of the United Nations, died is a plane crash. The quote, as I recall it: “For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes.”

So much of what we do here is helping ourselves and others come to terms with the reality of our lives. Some of it joyful and other parts sorrowful, but all of it real. We’re big believers in resiliency.

Your help in this effort inspires gratitude, awe and affirmation for being part of such important work. Yes, you’re awesome!

For more of Jim’s blogs CLICK HERE