Spiritual Autobiography – Unprocessed Grief

I started at AGSC (Alliance Graduate School of Counseling) the Fall Semester of 2015 and decided to do my required 15 sessions of Individual Counseling that first semester of the program since I was planning on doing the required 12 Group Therapy sessions during the Spring semester. It was difficult as I began uncovering years of unprocessed grief. My therapist noted that I spoke about very painful events in my life with a sense of detachment, almost as though I was narrating someone else’s story. She continued to challenge me to get at my feelings, not just thoughts about events and circumstances. I remember doing an exercise with my therapist that my Theories professor had suggested in class – going back to my childhood home to sit on the edge of my childhood bed and talk to my 10-year old self. I sobbed for about ten minutes straight as I talked to that little girl who had lost her mother, remembering that no one asked her about her feelings ever, no one asked her how she was doing, what she needed, what she missed about her mom.

I thought I had cleared the emotional decks and was ready to jump into group therapy the next semester, but I had no idea how intense that would be, particularly in the midst of an incredibly stressful semester of classes. I was so confused. I didn’t understand what the value was of people confronting each other. It was so unfamiliar to me to be able to speak your truth without risking the love and acceptance and support of the other person. I was getting in touch with my feelings but it was so hard to go on with the rest of life – it seemed like there was never enough time to process all the emotion I was experiencing before the next round. I felt attacked instead of encouraged when I confessed my realization that I loved the relationships I had with some of my younger classmates because they invited my influence whereas my son had always pushed me away in his younger years, and even then rarely accepted my influence. Group members challenged me and it felt harsh.

In The Rest of God Mark Buchanan writes about how we can go on in our lives without healing, becoming quite content with our pain. He says “Restoration meddles with what we’ve learned to handle, removes what we’ve learned to live with, bestows what we’ve learned to live without”. In short, we become adept at living with a gaping wound. It’s our comfortable place and what we embrace as our lot in life, our cross to bear. That painful truth – that I had become skilled at living with a gaping wound, was exposed for me in the course of Group Therapy.

When it became time to look for a Practicum site, I was really bothered that I didn’t get an interview at a Christian health care center and psychiatric hospital when I should have. I had been leading a monthly Parents of Suicide Loss Support Group there and had a relationship with the gentleman accepting internship applications. Other students had interviews set up, and even after the clinical supervisor emailed me to say apologetically that there were no openings for intern slots in the summer, he continued to schedule interviews of classmates I knew and offered them intern positions.

Again, I had to wrestle with the question of having a voice, feeling dismissed … should I call the gentleman to question it or believe God had something different or better for me?  I decided to apply to The Renfrew Center in Ridgewood, but when I disclosed that I had been in treatment for an eating disorder there in 2008, the Clinical Supervisor told me it was against policy to hire a former client as staff or intern.

As I prayed over the list of internship sites, I felt drawn to Daytop Village – an Outpatient Substance Abuse Center for some reason, but I didn’t really want to do substance abuse. I left my corporate job because I thought God was calling me to help adolescents deal with anxiety and depression, not venture into substance abuse counseling.  The nagging draw to Daytop did not go away so I consulted with a former clinical supervisor at the facility who was also an AGSC graduate to ask her about it.

She pretty  much told me I had to decide if I wanted to do substance abuse OR mental health counseling … because they were very different. And I wouldn’t be asking a client at Daytop how they were feeling about something, but more than likely I’d be calling them out about their lies and cover-up of substance use. She suggested that I go for an interview to check it out and see how I felt about it, obviously sage advice before ruling anything out.  Surprisingly, from the moment I walked into Samaritan Daytop Village to interview for an intern position, I felt comfortable, and at ease about the fit for me. But I was still confused about why I landed at this site, working with this population. I started doubting God’s leading just a little bit, and doubting myself too, wondering if I had not heard God clearly about my call to work with anxious, depressed, and suicidal adolescents, if I misunderstood, if my discernment had been way off.

Spiritual Autobiography – Hiding Out

I have been hiding out most of my life – hiding lack of self-worth behind credentials and accomplishments, what I do instead of who I am, hiding loneliness behind an outgoing exterior and sense of humor, a busy schedule, hiding the questions that haunted me  … who will take care of me? And … do I matter?

I was hiding out from my home church where I served as Youth Minister when I heard about The Plant, the church community that has transformed my life. I wanted to worship without some parent asking me about an issue they were having with their teenager or a committee chairperson asking me if the youth could help out with some church event … I pretty much wanted to control the time and way I served in ministry. So I visited a non-denominational Christian church and it happened to be their Missions Sunday when they talked about planting a daughter church, and I became a part of that plant core team in 2008.

I was convinced that God called me to this plant church, but had no idea of the provision He was blessing me with. He gave me both a family and a community that answered those big questions (who will take care of, do I matter?) when I gave them access to my life – they would take care of me and yes, I mattered to them. Sometimes it seems easier to welcome Christ into our heart than to open our life to others, but God in His tender mercies gave me what I fought hard against, but truly needed, for such a long time.

I was growing more and more frustrated in my job. Actually I loved the work I was doing, but struggled with my boss. Oddly there was no problem between us. I felt valued and needed and affirmed in my role in the department. But I was constantly upset about her showing favoritism to some others, the way she talked about some of the managers and admins to me, and her micro-managing of people that were fully capable to run with responsibility.

I started giving more attention to growing my Christian Life Coaching practice, and began attending Writers and Speakers Conferences, convinced I was being called to have a voice for the Lord …  back to that having a voice thing – you’ll know what I mean if you read Spiritual Autobiography Part I.  I went to the Proverbs 31 Ministries’ She Speaks Conference three years in a row for both the speaker and writer tracks, but I became really uncomfortable with some of the accolades I received, particularly from an editor who was interested in a book prospectus I pitched in a meeting with him.

My son created a blog for me to be able to share my words in a more private and less visible forum, and I blogged for quite a while, but again those anxious feelings about the influence God had given me in the lives of my readers crept in. It scared me and I didn’t feel worthy. Did He want me to speak, to write, to blog, to coach for Him? What was He calling me to?

My work situation was growing more unbearable each day and my daughters encouraged me to look for another job and helped me to update my resume. Funny, but in the moment when my heart became willing to make a change, I realized that I didn’t want to go to another company to do the same kind of work. If I was going to make a change, I wanted to go after my dream.  I wanted to go big or go home, as they say.

I began praying about quitting my job and going to AGSC (Alliance Graduate School of Counseling) at Nyack College, having obvious concerns about finances and what I would live on, and I invited many friends and family to pray with me for discernment and leading in the decision. In March of 2015, when my daughter’s good friend and co-worker was killed in a head-on car collision on the way to work, she called me and said “Mom, you gotta do this, you’ve talked about doing counseling for a long time. Don’t wait, we’ll figure out the finances. We gotta trust God on this.”