Category Archives: Blog – Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

Explore the spiritual journey of aging with Dr. Christine Dietz

A new group!

  • Dates: 8 sessions, Tuesday, August 24 – Tuesday, October 12
  • Time: 11am – 12:30 pm
  • Location: The group will be a hybrid of in person and Zoom. Those participating in person must sign a release for in office services and wear a mask in waiting rooms and hallways. Depending on the course of the current surge of Covid 19, there may be changes in this plan, including wearing masks when meeting in person or moving to a totally Zoom format.
  • Cost: $240
  • Facilitator: Dr. Christine Dietz (scroll down for bio and more information)
  • Questions: email Dr. Christine Dietz at cdietz@dmpcc.org
  • Group info: The group sessions will include some mini lectures, large and small group discussions and other group activities. The book, The Second Half of Life by Angeles Arrien is recommended but not required and will provide a context for the class. Other suggested readings will be provided at the first class session.

The Spiritual Journey of Aging

For more information on this 6-week group in August, please contact Dr. Christine Dietz by emailing cdietz@dmpcc.org

by Dr. Christine Dietz (scroll down for bio)

(July 2021) — From birth to death, we are all on a journey of aging. But American popular culture, still adolescent in so many ways, goes to great pains to deny it. Don’t believe me? Take a walk through the greeting card section of Target and look at the messages. Aging is presented as silly, shameful and to be strenuously avoided. For example: on the cover, “Everyone gets to be young once.” Inside, “Your turn’s over.” Or, “Don’t let society tell you what people your age can and can’t do.” Inside, “That’s what your knees are for.” Conversations among aging adults sometimes sound like this: “Aging is not for sissies.” “It sure beats the alternative!” And then there is the “organ recital” – a review of all our aches, pains, symptoms, and illnesses. In my very first group for older adults, a participant, referring to commercials for prunes and adult diapers, said, “They think of us as wrinkled babies!”

The mainstream media often portrays aging as disease, decline and poverty, to be addressed by retirement plans, long term care insurance and careful financial planning. Or it sends the contradictory messages that, in order to have meaningful lives, older adults must look young, stay fit, and continue to advance in their careers; or that they should “retire” to the margins of life and leave the important issues of policy, visions and values to younger people. There is little appreciation of the wisdom of elders, the value of their years of experience, or the gifts they offer to younger generations, in or out of the workplace. There is no cultural vision or path for meaningful engagement in life and work AS older adults.

Spiritual and psychological traditions provide more wisdom on the journey of aging. Carl Jung said, “One cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning, for what was great in the morning will be of little importance in the evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie” (The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche). In his book, Falling Upward, Richard Rohr uses this metaphor to explore the first journey of life, in which we discover our “script”, and what he calls the “further journey,” during which we write and live that script: “The first task is to build a strong “container” or identity, the second is to find the contents that container was meant to hold.” He continues, “None of us go into our spiritual maturity completely of our own accord, or by a totally free choice. We are led by Mystery, which religious people rightly call grace. Most of us have to be cajoled or seduced into it, or we fall into it by some kind of “transgression,” … Most get little reassurance from others, or even have full confidence that they are totally right. Setting out is always a leap of faith, a risk in the deepest sense of the term, and yet an adventure, too.”

I have been working professionally with older adults on spiritual journeys for many years. It was never part of my first half of life career plans. In 2003, life circumstances pushed me in a new direction. Now, 18 years later, I recognize that new direction as what my teachers, Rabbi Howard Avruhm Addison and Dr. Bobbie Breitman term a “call from the future” or what Rohr describes as a fall into the further journey.

At the time, I was on sabbatical from my faculty position at the University of New England School of Social Work and had also just been accepted into a training program for Jewish spiritual directors. I planned to work on a research project on lesbian mothers during my sabbatical while contemplating my new journey as a spiritual director.  Instead, I found myself struggling with illness, loss and anger at God.  I had one of a long sequence of eye surgeries, with increasing likelihood of the loss of sight in my right eye. According to my surgeons, there was nothing I could do to heal my vision. I wrote my first angry letter to God, complaining that “this is not what I signed up for!” Through prayer and conversations with my spiritual director, I discerned the need to leave the tenured Associate Professor position I had spent the previous 20 years achieving and left academia for a new job as Director of Elder Services at a local community mental health center. I never completed the research project and instead explored a newly discovered interest in aging and the second half of life.

Looking back from the vantage point of 18 years (a number signifying “life” in the Jewish tradition), I now recognize the signs of what Richard Rohr calls, “falling upward” or the Hasidic masters call “descent for the sake of ascent.” (Ironically, I wrote my final paper for my spiritual direction program on that concept!) Simply put, things have to fall apart in order for the soul to ascend to a higher place, to find what Jung called the Self, or Rohr calls the True Self. Now, several years beyond “retirement” age, as I contemplate working less to find more balance in my life, aging means something very different. In 2003, I thought of aging as something that happened to someone else, “elders” as someone other than me. For many years, I taught classes and led groups for older adults on the spiritual gifts and opportunities of the second half of life.    Well intentioned and impassioned as I have been about the positive aspects of aging, I have shied away from the darker side. I did not want to think about aging as a one-way journey leading to death, and the curricula for my groups and classes contained little about illness, death and decline. In a culture that considers older adults irrelevant and incompetent (“OK, Boomer”) we who are conscious of our aging struggle with the inevitable losses, grief, confusion, isolation, loneliness and sense of meaninglessness and helplessness that accompany us on this journey. Not to mention the fear of death, an inevitability that our culture is particularly ill-equipped to address. At the same time, we are trying to engage meaningfully with life, with little acknowledgement or support from the culture, or often even our family and friends. Spiritual traditions, ancient and modern, offer paths through those painful realities, but only if we are willing to confront the void and accept the insights and truths revealed there.

As I confront the questions of meaning that now arise, as I consider who I am if I am not working full time, if I continue to lose my sight and my ability to drive, if, God forbid, I stop working altogether, I am terrified. My terror comes from the losses I have experienced – of both my parents, of a step-daughter, of my sister’s newly diagnosed chronic illness, and the potential of losing my sight – as well as the recognition that, as I age, these losses will be compounded. I am looking into the void. I still long for meaning and purpose, and I cling to hope that my journey will continue to be blessed with creativity, generativity and service to others. But my container also needs space for grief, for uncertainty – and for silence, emptiness and presence.

This is a painful place, and we need companions to help us negotiate it, to “hold the tension of the opposites, “as Jung terms it, to acknowledge both the blessings and the pain of aging. In August, I will offer a six-week group for older adults called “The Spiritual Journey of Aging” to explore the gifts and challenges of this journey. We will explore wisdom from spiritual traditions, literature, myth and fable as well as generative insights from writers such as Richard Rohr, Rabbi Zalman Shachter-Shalomi, James Hollis, Marion Woodman, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ram Dass and Mark Nepo. The only requirements are a willingness to courageously explore the gifts and challenges of one’s journey in the second half of life, and to laugh and cry with others. If you are interested in learning more, please contact me directly by email at cdietz@dmpcc.org.

*

Christine A. Dietz, Ph.D., L.I.S.W.

Dr. Christine Dietz is a licensed independent social worker, spiritual director and Reiki Master. She is the Center’s Director of Clinical Training. She received her M.S.W. from the University of Iowa and her Ph.D. in Sociology from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She is a graduate of the Lev Shomea Training Program for Spiritual Direction in the Jewish Tradition. Christine’s focus in counseling is on helping people reconnect to their innate wholeness and renew their sense of hope and possibility. She works with people experiencing anxiety, depression, OCD, trauma, life transitions, chronic illness, grief and loss, and relationship issues. She also offers individual and group spiritual direction to people from all faith traditions. She is a member of the National Association of Social Workers and Spiritual Directors International.

Billie’s blog: June 2021

Juneteenth – How Black People Celebrate Freedom

by Billie Wade, guest blogger

June 2021 – Juneteenth, June 19, is a joyous day for Black Americans for it ended slavery in the United States. On this day in 1865—more than two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation—General Gordon Granger read to enslaved people in Galveston, Texas “General Order No. 3.” The words of the order declared: “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” This simple statement freed 250,000 slaves. The Declaration of Independence dated July 4, 1776, and signed August 2, 1776, did not declare freedom for what would multiply to almost 700,000 slaves in 1790.

Newly freed slaves immediately celebrated. On June 19, 1866, freedmen in Texas organized the first formal celebration, then called “Jubilee Day.” Over the years, Juneteenth celebrations have included music, barbecues, prayer services, parades, and other activities. Juneteenth spread to other regions of the country as Black people moved from Texas.

Juneteenth, thought to be the oldest African American holiday, is the melding of “June” and “nineteenth.” In 1979, Texas became the first state to decree Juneteenth an official holiday. Today, 47 states recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday, while efforts to make it a national holiday have so far stalled in Congress.

The Emancipation Proclamation signed January 1, 1863, which provided in part, “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free,” freed only those slaves in Confederate States. When Northern forces marched into the South, numerous slaves fled to safety behind Union lines. Despite the order, some slaveowners suppressed the news until harvesting was done. On December 6, 1865, with ratification of the 13th Amendment, the institution of slavery in the United States was officially abolished.

President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation with some trepidation. He believed Black men should have the right to improve their lives and enjoy the rewards of their endeavors which equaled them to White men. However, he opposed absolute equality. In a September 18, 1858, debate with U. S. Senate opponent Stephen Douglas, he admitted that he was not nor ever had been in favor of social and political equality for Black and White people.

Mr. Lincoln went on to say he was against Black people having the right to vote, to sit on juries, to hold public office, and to marry White people. His biggest hurdle, though, was the endorsement of slavery by the U. S. Constitution which included clauses governing fugitive slaves and the clause defining slaves as three-fifths human. At one time, Lincoln considered removing Black people from the country and colonizing them in various locations in Africa which angered Black leaders and advocates. He said because of the racial differences and the hostilities of White people toward Black people it would be better if the races were separated. Little has changed in the past 156 years. When White people become uncomfortable, Black people must go away in all the many forms that happens in this country.

Although limited, the Emancipation Proclamation indicated a critical change in Lincoln’s mindset regarding slavery and the Civil War. Approximately 200,000 Black men served the Union Army and Navy landing a deadly strike against slavery and opening the door for abolition declared by the 13th Amendment.

Important dates in Iowa:

On March 22, 2021, the City of Des Moines announced Juneteenth is now an official City holiday. City offices and buildings will be closed on June 19 or the adjacent weekday to the date. Scott Sanders, City manager stated. “We hope by commemorating this date, we can better illustrate the significance of Juneteenth and generate greater recognition throughout our community and the state.”

June 19, 2015, Iowa Public Television, known as Iowa PBS as of January 1, 2020, presented “2015 Juneteenth Jamboree” produced by PBS station KRLU of Austin, Texas which included mention of the Iowa Juneteenth Observance.

On February 26, 2015, the Iowa House of Representatives adopted House Resolution 11(HR11) which stated, in part, “Be it resolved by the House of Representatives, that the House of Representatives acknowledges the 25th Anniversary of the Iowa Juneteenth Observance and recognizes the significant role of the Iowa Juneteenth Observance in serving as cultural and historical asset to Iowa’s citizens.”

On February 23, 2015, the Iowa Juneteenth Observance transferred to the Iowa State Historical Society (Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs) articles to be included in permanent museum collection records. They are used to strengthen the Juneteenth exhibit in the State Historical Museum of Iowa.

On April 11, 2002, former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, currently serving as the United States Secretary of Agriculture, signed into law the official observance of Juneteenth on the third Saturday in June.

Information for this year’s Juneteenth Observance is highlighted by DSM USA of the Greater Des Moines Partnership.

Enjoy.

For more blog posts from Billie Wade: www.dmpcc.org/Billie

On the Brink: A Group for Religious Professionals Transitioning into Retirement

 PROGRAM

 

Retiring from active religious and spiritual leadership evokes many emotions–dread, joy, fear, anxiety, excitement…Questions arise: “How will I find meaning and purpose?” “What is my call now?”  “How do I adapt to all of the changes that aging brings?”  “How do I share my spiritual gifts while maintaining healthy boundaries?”

Utilizing Parker Palmer’s book, “On the Brink of Everything:  Grace, Gravity and Getting Old”, clergy approaching retirement, or recently retired, will gather four times to support one another by exploring the existential challenges retirement brings.

AUDIENCE  Religious professionals including rabbis, pastors, priests, imams and others who are considering their next stage of life
DATE / TIME  Tuesdays from 1-3:30PM

  • Sept. 7, 2021
  • Oct. 5, 2021
  • Nov. 2, 2021
  • Nov. 30, 2021
COST $200 for the full series of four sessions
LOCATION  All sessions will be held virtually by Zoom

For more information please contact Mark Minear at mminear@dmpcc.org

Click here for a printable flier!

FACILITATORS

Diane McClanahan, M.Div., B.S.N.

Diane McClanahan, recently retired as Director of Leadership and Spiritual Life at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center. Her work at the Center included program development and facilitation of services for clergy and congregations including education, spiritual direction, clergy coaching, church consultation and conflict mediation.  She holds a bachelor of science degree in nursing from Duke University and a master of divinity degree from Yale Divinity School. An ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, she has served congregations in Connecticut and Iowa. Diane is enjoying retirement in Maine where she continues to offer spiritual direction to a limited number of people.

Mark Minear, Ph.D.

Mark MinearMark Minear is a licensed psychologist. He is also a recorded minister with the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker). His education includes an M.A. in church history from the Earlham School of Religion and a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Ball State University. Now in his 10th year at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, he has a therapeutic niche of working with a wide range of clergy from various faith traditions across these years. His theoretical approach includes an integration of logotherapy (meaning-making), cognitive-behavioral, family systems, and mindfulness orientations. Now in the midst of his own journey into retirement, he is currently working part-time at the Center.

Chris’ Blog: Whatever the Question, The Answer is Grace

Whatever the Question, The Answer is Grace

by Chris Waddle, Director of Leadership and Spiritual Life, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

February 2021 — “Whatever the question, the answer is grace.” I was about 19 when my pastor said this to me. I was a mess. I was worried about being accepted by God. I was worried about being alone for the rest of my life. I was worried about not being good enough in about fifty different ways. I was “freaking out!”

“Whatever the question, the answer is grace.”

Does that sound too fluffy and simplistic to you? Sometimes it does to me. But not that day. It was exactly what I needed to hear. It cut to the core of everything that was driving my fear and anxiety, perfectionism!

It did not help that I belonged to a denomination that constantly talked about how God was always moving us toward “perfection!” The goal was “perfection in love,” to become the kind of person that responded out of love no matter what the situation. Now my pastor seemed to be completely removing the goal line, “Whatever the question, the answer is grace?”

More and more I am discovering the deep truth of Jim’s words that day. Grace in my faith tradition is the unconditional love and power of God at work for good in our lives and in creation. Grace comes first, not sin, not belief in God, not repentance. . . grace for ALL creation. The Word that called all that is into being and sustains that being in every moment is Grace.

My worth. . . your worth. . . is not ever earned, diminished, or up for grabs. It is a given and a constant. It does not change with my performance or my situation. Trusting in this sacred worth God grants to ALL also helps me with that “perfection in love” part of my tradition.

“Perfection in love” does not mean I do not make mistakes. It means that my initial response in any circumstance is to do what is most loving. That is a very large and compelling vision, and, I really do want to be that kind of person. . . but I am not. But here is the catch. . . I can’t do it, at least, not as a force of will. Such love must be a transformation of my very being.

I am not saying that it does not involve my actions or that it does not involve my choices. What I am saying is, I do not do it. God’s grace is always acting on me and I can choose to work with or work against that movement of love in my life. I choose and act, but God is always the one urging, directing, empowering, and transforming.

Sometimes I experience Grace as providence. Sometimes I experience Grace as warning. Sometimes I experience Grace as forgiveness. Sometimes I experience Grace as a kick in the butt to take a risk get tough and/or be more vulnerable.

Grace is the Love that holds me and adores me. This is something that the mystics, people of deep prayerful connection with God and creation, from many different religious traditions have in common. When they stop, allow themselves to be open to the mystery of life and being they speak of experiencing a deep connection to a Love that delights in all of us and all of creation.

Grace is NOT God “getting over” or “looking past” our sin, or imperfections, to “Love us anyway.” I cringe now when I realize how many times I must have used this “God loves us anyway” phrase as a pastor. When I realized how pathetic it was I vowed never to do it again. I am convinced God does not need to “get over” anything to love us. . . God adores us period.

Why am I so convinced? Because, as I said, it is a consistent experience of deeply prayerful people across religious traditions. It is what I find most compelling in the most loving people I know. It is the way I have experienced love from those who have loved me most deeply, and it is the way I love my own child.

Harvey

If this is true of my experience of love, then how much more must it be true of God! Please give up the the image of God “getting over stuff” to love you “anyway”. . . that image of love is a thousand times too small to fit The Ground and Source of All Being. Frankly, It does not even fit my love for my dog, who I certainly do adore.

Speaking of my dog, Harvey does have some growing edges. So do I. Harvey steals shoes and chews them up. I do not steal shoes but I do have some self-destructive tendencies, unhealthy attachments, prejudices, and bad habits.

This is part of what Christians call “sin.” As a teenager someone told me “God cannot use you if there is sin in your life.” That is part of what was troubling me when I was 19. How could I ever know that there was no sin in my life? There was so much to work on and in some cases I was not even sure what was and what was not a sin! I even thought not thinking correctly about God might be a sin! No wonder I was freaking out!

Of course, now, I realize that even a casual reading of the Bible, history book, or newspaper, will demonstrate God using people ‘with sin in their lives” doing incredibly brave, faithful, and loving things.

Still, I do not like to admit my faults, sins, or even bad habits. However, this is where grace helps me. This is why saying “Whatever the question, the answer is grace” is not a “pass” on growth or accountability but an empowering proverb.

If I feel I have to work on everything at once. The weight of it all is simply too overwhelming and I can easily become demoralized and stuck in guilt and shame. This makes it hard to be vulnerable, to feel loved, to give love freely, or to take a leap of faith, which is precisely how we become our true selves. Grace takes much of the pressure off. Grace says “Your worth as a person is not at risk. You do not have to work on everything at once. Let the same Love that called you into being sustain you as it also transforms you.”

I am guessing that you, like me have growing edges, unhealthy attachments, bad habits, fears, resentments, and other garbage. You may or may not use the same “sin” or “God” language that I do. However, I believe this experience is universally human.

Might it be true that you cannot work on everything at once? Might that be ok? Might accepting this actually be empowering to actually make a meaningful change? If so, what would be most healing or helpful to you at this time in your life?

Perhaps it is time to take a leap of faith? Or, perhaps you need to take a small step first? From a place of grace, knowing you do not have to do it all at once, what next step does your spirit long to take? Who might support you as you take this next step?

Likewise, where do you sense your spirit inviting you to be ok with not being perfect? What is a waste of energy? What is an unrealistic expectation? What might need attention, but not right now?

“Whatever the question, the answer is Grace.”

Your partner in hope and healing,

Chris . . . and Harvey!

 

Billie’s blog: February 2021

An invitation to sit with your discomfort, allow it to speak to you

Billie Wade, writer

by Billie Wade, PrairieFire graduate

February 2021 – This post heralds a new dawn: addressing the cold, hard reality of racism. I use the term “dawn” to signify the raw truth that for over four hundred years, we remain at the gate of facing and reckoning with racism. Racism, fueled by hate, greed, and fear, is firmly entrenched in our country’s DNA like the pink stain in a plastic refrigerator dish after the spaghetti sauce is removed. We begin where we are, which is always a new place even if we have had a similar experience in the past. Our feelings are cumulative. It is how wisdom is earned.

Since July 2017, I have enjoyed the honor and privilege to share with you a variety of topics and my experience and perspective. As a Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center client for many years, I feel the mission, vision, and values in the environment every time I enter the doors. Now with our interactions on Zoom, those tenets continue to shine through. The Center seeks to understand the clients they serve, and to reach out to underserved demographics. With that said, I now turn my focus to the insidious organism of racism and the trauma of intergenerational Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that remains alive and thriving in 2021.

On May 30, 2020, in response to the brutal, flaunting murder of George Floyd and the attack that murdered Breonna Taylor, the Center put voice to their compassion and solidarity with the Black community. The antiracism statement on the landing page of the website announced formation of the Antiracism Learning Group*. I am delighted and humbled to cofacilitate the group with Terri Speirs, the Center’s director of community relations.

I will use several terms often in my writing. My working definitions are:

  • Racism—a system consisting of rules, laws, policies, and practices designed to disenfranchise nonwhite people. The organism systematically perpetuates the unfounded belief that Black people are inferior and, therefore, suitable for subjugation and exploitation.
  • “I, we, and Black people”—descendants of slaves brought to this country in 1619.
  • “White people”—the collective of members of the privileged race in the United States.
  • White privilege—perks given to White people because of the color of their skin.
  • Appropriation—the use by one culture of the accoutrements of another culture, particularly while forbidding the appropriated culture to enjoy those accoutrements.

Racism began when White people laid eyes on native Africans and deemed them nonhuman. They kidnapped the people and brought them to this country stripped of everything—clothing, dignity, rituals, language, spirituality, family, friends, culture, all human rights—in chains stacked like ears of corn in the holds of cargo ships. Those who died were unceremoniously thrown overboard. Upon arrival in America, families were separated, never to see each other again.

Black people face a plethora of stressors every minute of every day. We are hated, hunted, and profiled. We live in a country where Black and Brown bodies are killed on suspicion of criminality by walking on a street with our hands in our pockets. Where a “routine” traffic stop may end our life. Where laws and policies directed at oppressing us are enacted without our knowledge and input. Policies and laws enacted to support and liberate Black people are swiftly met with counter laws that cancel out the advancement. Case in point: The so-called “war on drugs” is a war on Black people. The drug war is waged only in Black communities. The shop owner called police because he suspected George Floyd may have been attempting to pass a counterfeit $20.00 bill. Why did the situation call for four officers?

The medical and mental health fields acted with remarkable swiftness to address the opioid crisis. Middle- and upper-class White women comprised the largest demographic. They were offered treatment, mental health services, and resources. Their plight was blamed on a highly addictive drug. Black people who are addicted to drugs are labeled criminals (because they are in possession of the drug), drug addicts, and morally deficient.

Some of the material may be hard for you to receive. I encourage you to try to sit with your feelings and discomfort and allow them to speak to you. The discomfort is there for a reason. “What belief is this revelation rubbing up against?” The most potent question to ask yourself is, “How can I see this differently?” If you have a spiritual aspect in your life, you can ask that Power to help you see differently. Once we know something, we can no longer ignore its existence. Then, we bump into the question, “What can I do? I’m but one person and the landscape of racism is enormous.” This appeal is not easily answered. I hope to offer you resources you can explore.

Black people in the United States exist as a “gray” caricature of two disparate societies with clashing ideals and rules. The White collective expects us to adhere to their established cultural norms but to never make the mistake of forgetting our “place” on the human hierarchy—on the sidewalk leading to the ladder, not even close.

I have spent my life trying to maintain balance between the worlds of the Black collective and the White collective. Black people accuse me of imitating White people, of trying to be White. On the other hand, White people see me as friendly and intelligent—and Black. I have been denied raises, promotions, job flexibility to return to school, and subjected to blatant lies.

Everything I share does not apply to all people in every situation. Humans are hardwired with their own set of idiosyncrasies, perspectives, and ways of receiving new information, derived from experience. I make no attempt to address all White people as racist nor all Black people into a single category. With that said, I hope you use discernment to consider the statements I offer and examine your beliefs rather than dismissing a point as “it doesn’t apply to me.”

Much has happened during the past nine months—giant corporations drafted public antiracism statements and policies and enacted procedures to follow through; ordinary citizens created book clubs and discussion groups; people backed “Black Lives Matter” with yard signs, sweaters, and other wearables; churches hung banners on their exterior walls to declare their solidarity; we elected Kamala Harris, the first female, nonwhite vice president of the United States. Black people do have allies who sincerely offer compassion and generosity of time, energy, and resources. People who listen to us, really try to hear what we are not saying as well as what we do say.

We need White people to take the time to ask what we need. We need White people to become sensitive to the intergenerational effects of PTSD. Yes, we desperately need equal opportunities for and access to education, employment, housing, medical and mental healthcare, political and governmental participation and representation, and beneficial networks. We cannot attain these human rights and privileges without help. The media exposes us to the symptoms rather than the disease. As such, I commend all of you, and everyone on the front lines of supporting Black people. Please know you are appreciated.

There remains much to do to address more than four hundred years of racism. While we can view the glimmer of hope, to exhale and say we have arrived is a mistake. A quick fix does not exist. White supremacists push back to maintain the oppression and marginalization. They wait in the background ready to pounce at a moment’s notice.

Over the next month, I challenge you to the following exercise:

  • What do I believe about Black people—not what you want to believe? Write your answers in a notebook to get them out in front of you, out into the open, where you can see them in stark reality.
  • How did I arrive at those beliefs?
  • What proof do I have as the validity of those beliefs?
  • You need share your responses as you feel comfortable. I do not recommend doing so if you feel unsafe.

May your days, weeks, and months unfold in health, safety, joy, and peace.

More from Billie’s blog: www.dmpcc.org/Billie

*If you are interested in joining the anti-racism learning group, please email tspeirs@dmpcc.org

Billie’s blog: Celebrate What’s Important in 2021: You!

by Billie Wade

January 2021 — I recall attaining a major goal and the urge to run into the street screaming and flailing my arms. Fortunately, reality tapped me on the shoulder immediately. Achievement feels good and even more so when someone acknowledges our effort. Recognition gives us the energy and enthusiasm of boosted self-confidence for the next step of the journey. And away we go, having lunged into our goal or milestone, we are off to the next without so much as checking to see if our shoelaces are still tied. Over time we wear down, feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, and ineffective. The “new and exciting” activities of going after our vision become tedious chores. We ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this? It’s all so pointless. Nobody else will even care.” Mistakes, inevitable though they are, become shrouds of failure. When we live with one or more mental health diagnoses, both the pleasant and the unpleasant of successful living may bat us back and forth like a ping pong ball. One way to help ease the anxiety and balance our experiences is self-celebration.

Self-celebration gets you off the gerbil wheel for a while. You exhale the tension of focused striving. You catch your breath and let it come naturally. You inhale the next breath for strength to grab the baton and begin the next leg of the journey. With that new, raw energy comes increased belief in yourself and what you are setting out to do. When you celebrate yourself—who you are, what you have endured, your achievements, and what you have overcome—you make a profound statement to yourself that you are valuable unconditionally because of your existence. Celebration sets you up for an amazing range of feelings and physical responses. Joy. Delight. Awe. Wonder. Giggles. Laughter. Grins. Smirks. Amusement. And even eye rolling. People who are particularly body-sensitive may feel their body “laughing or singing, or other sensations.”

Self-celebration makes you your Number One Fan. You are a priceless synergy of traits, skills, and wisdom. Your unique quirkiness makes you who you are. You enrich the world with all you do. When you are joyful, you infuse your life with magnetic cheer, and you spread it to those around you. Joy is free. Joy is contagious. Joy is an expression of profound gratitude. Abilities are common in three forms: innate, learned through deliberate study, and acquired through experience—think of the wisdom and insight you have gained in the School of Life. Ironically, your most emotionally painful experiences contain the richest wisdom. They illuminate your courage, resourcefulness, and resilience, Celebrate them.

Early on in self-celebration you may worry about sounding arrogant and unappreciative. You may have learned, as I did, at a young age bragging is a bad practice to start, so bad you could get “the look” or dispatched upstairs to clean your room. However, when you embark on a new endeavor which requires the approval of others, you receive a set of “have tos. ”You have to sell yourself. You have to toot your own horn. You have to convince ‘them’ you are the best.” These instructions, while meant to encourage you, can confuse you about when you can be proud of yourself and when it is not a good idea.

When sharing your good news invite others in by leading with your feelings, such as, “I have great news to share with you,” or “I am so happy. I can hardly wait to tell you…” or “I did it! I finally made it. ”Share the spotlight if someone helped you. Consider the people you trust. You may need to share with different people in a revved up or subdued manner. If your sister is your number one fan, pour on the exuberance. If your neighbor frowns on everything you do, approach sharing the news with a little caution, if telling the person is necessary.

So, what do you do? First, remember you are the ONLY person with you 24/7. So, you are the only person who truly knows the intensity of your efforts. Waiting for someone else to congratulate you may take a long time, or not come at all. While this can be hurtful, you can celebrate yourself and even invite others to join you. Get ready for self-celebration by engaging a conscious awareness of activities you enjoy and/or do well and your achievements. I have a running list of my accomplishments to which I add as needed. The notebook pages are made from stone paper—that’s right, paper made from stone! I titled the notebook “Etched in Stone” to help me remember my ability to contribute to my dreams and to the world in which I live. Self-celebration is a gift to yourself you can enjoy regardless of the presence of others.

Sometimes, you may have to shut down the critical voices yammering at you whether the person(s) is(are) sitting in the same room with you or the voice is from a memory. If self-celebration is daunting for you, talk to someone you trust—therapist, primary care provider, religious leader, spiritual director, friend, or family member. Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center is here for you. Clinicians offering a vast array of support and guidance welcome you. To begin your journey toward healing, click here. See my article, “How To Choose A Therapist” (August, 2020)

I usually emphasize that a fancy journal is unnecessary. For self-celebration, however, I encourage you to find a journal that makes you smile and want to snuggle or that makes you feel powerful. It does not matter if you purchase your journal at a dollar store or at a bookstore in the mall. Or, if you are crafty, create a journal and embellish the cover and give your journal a name or title. The importance is in how the journal makes you feel each time you write. Stock up on colorful ink pens, pencils, and highlighters, and glitter. Use whatever color fits your mood at the time or color-code your entries.

Several years ago, I bought a charming journal based entirely on its visual appeal: a top-down image of a dragonfly set against a multi-color background. The nubby-textured brown-gray cover welcomed the dragonfly in without swallowing it. I liked the satiny feel of the muted green-grey pages, with a dragonfly in an upper corner of each page, perfect for brown ink. If you have not tried brown ink, I encourage you to do so. The journal lay in a drawer with other to-be-used-one-of-these-days companions while I waited for the “perfect” theme, that moment of worthiness of such a delightful book.

On June 9, 2020, I wrote the first entry: to dedicate my Dragonfly Journal to my emotional health and evolution. I claimed my dignity as a human being, proud of my abilities, innate as well as learned. I declared my intention to write only good stuff—Gifts of the Day, affirmations, mantras. Envision gratitude on steroids with lots of friends. All entries are positive words. Such as, “I safely arrived to and from all my destinations today,” rather than, “I didn’t have any traffic or shopping problems.” This was a bit tricky at first. The exercise helped me redefine my experiences and self-messages. I had to create a new vocabulary.

Here are some tips for Celebrating Wonderful You every day.

  • Use your celebration journal ONLY for the good stuff—unexpected acts of generosity, great parking spaces, getting home fifteen minutes before the thunderstorm rumbled overhead, a medical appointment with good news. Use your regular journal for working through experiences, problem-solving, and exploring your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
  • Write a list of everything you do well or love doing—from “I like the way I fold bath towels to I am an accomplished, respected astrophysicist with twenty years of experience”. Or, perhaps, you were present for a friend or completed an intense training. Be sure to number them so you can see the magnitude of your achievements, in quality as well as quantity.
  • Pause at least ten seconds between each item—set a timer if necessary—and sink into the pleasure of the moment.
  • Write just enough description that you will fully recall the experience when you reread the entry.
  • Each day, write at least one entry that expresses a minimum of five Gifts of the Day–more powerful than “Things I’m grateful for.” You will have so many Gifts on some days, remembering them all will be a challenge. That’s a good thing, a very good thing. Carry a small notebook with you always.
  • Use your social media or videoconferencing platform if you deem it appropriate.
  • If you have a videoconferencing account open a meeting and host a one-on-one session with yourself, with or without the video feature on.
  • Celebrate yourself as often as you want, anytime, anywhere. You do not have to say a word out loud, but I encourage you to do so. Hearing praise directed at you in your own voice can be quite powerful. Record it on your phone or computer and replay it whenever you need a boost
  • Celebrate your achievement repeatedly for as long as you like—just a smile is a celebration, an affirmation, a statement of enjoyment, about yourself. Sometimes, an inner smile is all you need.
  • Apply the wisdom of reaching your goal to the rest of your life.
  • Revisit your entries when you need a boost of confidence and say, “Wow, I rock!”

We continually seek meaning and fulfillment from our experiences. The achieving can sometimes overshadow the achievement. When we take time to be mindful and appreciative of the journey on our way to the destination, we invite meaning and fulfillment into the doing, which slows down the frenetic pace and sets us on a path of discovery as we achieve. In this respect, the journey is the goal as much as the destination. We do not have to be shy or embarrassed about who we are and what we do to live our life in fullness and contribute to the world in which we live, whatever that looks like for each of us.

Achieve. Enjoy. Celebrate. Repeat.

Billie’s blog index: www.dmpcc.org/Billie

Media review for hope and healing #1

The Heart Hunger for Wildness by Diane Glass

reviewed by Terri Mork Speirs, Director of Community Relations

January 2021 — I am a believer that storytelling is a powerful path to hope and healing. Stories remind us that we are not alone in our joy and pain, whatever they are.  I am pleased to offer thoughts on what I call a genre-bending book that blends poetry and memoir — reflections on one’s life in lyrical form. In this sleek new book of poems, author Diane Glass shares her life’s perspectives that are deeply unique to her yet universal to all of us. (For many years Diane has served instructor for the Center’s PrairieFire program.)

One of the many things I love about this slim volume is the clever ordering of chapters that clusters the poems into three themes: hunger, heart, wildness. And how the themes circle and flow within the chapters, and page to page. Her subjects range from the simple to the simply unimaginable. Her verses call us to pay attention, sometimes with proposed solutions placed cleverly in plain sight right before us. As if that’s how it works in the real world.

For example the last line on page 26 asks: “How do you want to live?”

The first line on page 27 seems to offer the perfect answer: “Curiosity.”

Ah, curiosity, what an antidote to pandemic and quarantine. But how to cultivate it when it can be hard to simply think? As one with self diagnosed covid-brain (extra short attention span), I like the white space poetry offers. I like the choices of short or shorter reads. I like the puzzle-like experience of reading out of order, and not worrying if I don’t immediately understand. I like being amazed when I do. I like that knowing that sometimes chaos can turn to order. And most times, it’s OK to just sit with the chaos.

Throughout the book, the author’s vivid imagery is at once lyrical and arresting, such as: “Take care of my plant, my stepson wrote in careful script in his suicide letter on the kitchen table of his apartment.” (p. 48) The four poems related to this line are like chapter-ettes of the full poem entitled “The Botany of Grief.” It is an exploration of suicide loss in plain words. The series of poems stunned me for both the beauty and sadness. How can there be both at the same time?

Her poems seek to make sense out of the nonsensical. Suicide. Illness. Racism. Divorce. While somehow weaving in the joy. Nature. Dancing. Wonder. New love.

You can read when you can. You can read one page. You can read ten pages. Put it by your favorite chair and pick it up a week later. You can remember that you are not alone.

Give the book to yourself, or to someone you love.

*

Diane Glass, author and PrairieFire instructor

Diane Glass brings a writer’s astute attention to detail and a spiritual director’s ability to probe the depths of meaning in everyday experience in her new book of poetry, The Heart Hungers for Wildness.

From the power of soup to change the world to the land’s willingness to talk with us if we listen, her poems testify to the joy of following the heart’s wild longings.

Along the way, she shares sorrows as well—losing a stepson, facing illness, living out the pandemic. You will come to better understand your own life passages and possibilities after reading this book.

Available at Beaverdale Books in Des Moines and on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Save or Savor?

 

by Jim Hayes, Executive Director

February 2021 — This quote found me as I was working through a gratitude reflection over the Thanksgiving holiday. It continues to nourish my thoughts and I’m wondering why.

One of my strategies for surviving this pandemic has been to try to stay in the moment rather than letting anxious thoughts overwhelm the day. My rational mind reminds my lizard brain that if anxiety drives the bus, I might miss the beauty of a moment or a day. This is especially true in the midst of a pandemic, which has heightened anxiety for most of us. Each day, no matter the external context, is rooted in the everlasting now. I do my best to savor the moment.

Among the moments to savor are the stories of some incredible people who have contributed to the Center over the years. For a variety of reasons, a number of our “wisdom figures” chose to retire over the last few months. They all seem to be enjoying retirement immensely! We have all been nourished by their efforts and ought to take a moment to savor the wonder of how they made us better by offering their many gifts to help us advance our mission.

Susan Ackelson joined us in 1996. She helped so many people as a therapist, but also served as Clinical Director. She did so much to help us appreciate the significance of holistic healing by paying attention to not only the mind, but the spirit and body through her sensory motor work.

Susan Koehler, P.A., came in 2014. Her years of service may not have been as long as some of the others on this list, but the services she provided represented a significant shift in our work. She started as a consultant helping us to better understand how psychiatry might help our patients, but later joined us as a prescriber. Along with Dr. Geoffrey Hills, Susan provided a wonderful resource by having in house prescribers.

Diane McClanahan joined us as the first full time director of Leadership and Spiritual Life in 2013. She established a number of new programs that not only benefitted the Center, but numerous communities of faith around the state. She also served many people as a trusted spiritual director.

Kathy Reardon allowed us to write a significant piece of appreciation in an earlier newsletter. She joined us in 2001. Her contributions are well documented, but my savoring of the Center’s work would be incomplete if I didn’t reflect once again on her contributions in healing touch, spiritual direction, and the establishment of the Prairie Fire spiritual formation program.

Roberta Yoder just retired last month. She joined us in 1996 as a career counselor. She has been a faithful and inspiring leader in what was virtually a one person program. So many people have Roberta to thank for discovering fulfilling careers. I always enjoyed my conversations with her around the topic of vocation. She certainly found a way to use her many gifts in the service of others.

There’s a bit of grief as I write this and reflect on these esteemed and highly valued colleagues. I miss them. Again, they all had a variety of reasons for why retirement made sense at this point in their lives and they left on the best of terms and continue to support the Center in a variety of ways. My savoring relates to the inspiration they continue to provide to so many. On a personal level, they certainly nourished my spirit in unique ways.

I have to provide one final bit of savoring by recognizing that we lost Larry Sonner on November 27th  to COVID-19.  He was retired from a variety of roles as a United Methodist Elder. One of his many contributions of a life lived well was to facilitate the gatherings of the supervisors in our training program for 25 years. We are so grateful for the many quality therapists he helped to shape in that quarter century. He and Sue, his spouse, contributed to the Center in many ways over the years. We offer our sympathy to her and the family, even as we celebrate the wonder of all that Larry did with his many gifts.

My reflections don’t even include other stakeholders and donors we’ve lost in 2020. The list is long and I’m afraid I’d forget someone if I started listing individuals. I’ll save that reflection for another time.

Savor these stories!

But we should also heed White’s advice to improve (or save) the world.

Even in the midst of a pandemic, we need to hold ourselves accountable to stewarding the gifts bestowed on us by creation. When I think of the many contributions over 100 staff and innumerable donors have added over the 49 year history of the Center, I am energized by their memories as I consider our role in advancing our important work. Along with the board and staff, I hope that we find ways to make a difference as we strive to serve the many needs in our community, especially related to holistic and mental health.

The world stands in need of improvement—maybe even a little bit of saving. You’ll be hearing from me in 2021 about strategies we have for writing the next chapter of the history of the Center. It will take all of us, using the many gifts we hold as a community, to affect positive social change. We are grateful for others who have done it before us, but also take seriously our responsibility to respond generously as well.

Thank you for all you’ve done to help us continue to serve in a challenging year. Savor the wonder of it all so that we might all be inspired to do a bit of “saving” in 2021.

Blessings,

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