What counseling others reveals about yourself

One of the things I learned through reflecting on and getting feedback to pastoral encounters through verbatims is that many times I am counseling myself without knowing it. It’s only in reflection, sometimes long after the fact, that you start to hear yourself talk to yourself. I decided not to go the whole CPE verbatim route, buyt I like this format for reading.

For an example I included part of a dialogue I had with one of my regular patients, an older woman on hospice. She typically has a lot of pain but rarely tells anyone about it. She puts on a pleasant front but typically doesn’t let much out. I decided one day to press her a bit.

C8: So how’s you’re back been? Better or worse or about the same.
P8: No, about the same.
C9: About the same? Just not a good day today.
P9: eh..
C10: eh…
P10: (pause) I’m not complaining too much. Stick around though.
C11: You’re not too much of a complainer though.
P11: Seems like I’m always complaining.
C12: Really? I’ve never seen you as much of a complainer.

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Cancer from both sides: Joanie Baldwin Branch

I wanted to feature a post and blog from a friend of mine who is dealing in her own way with terminal cancer. I worked with her in hospice, she as a nurse and I as a chaplain. After she was diagnosed with her own cancer I encouraged her to write about it. This post I thought would be a great introduction. You can catch up with her at joanbaldwinbranch.blogspot.com.

More Cancer Lessons:
I have so many thoughts running through my mind with the underlying theme being; I must start writing all of this down. So, here I go not knowing what will come out of my head or where to start this.
Since I have cancer, I think a lot of the things one thinks of if they know their time here on earth is limited. It was then that I discovered what a blessing this time is. If you know you don’t have all that much time, you tend to, at least mentally, write a ‘to do’ list. On that list are things like funeral arrangements, writing letters to my children, thinking about what songs you want played at the service, etc. The introspection is phenomenal. I am getting to know me at last. Just knowing me has been something that I have often pondered doing. Now it becomes a reality. I find so many things funny. I laugh long and often. Poking fun at yourself & this disease is so freeing. It has been influential with having my family members stop denying that I am going to die. They are learning to accept this diagnosis. There is no ‘elephant in the room’. We make jokes about my baldness and my chemo brain although my grandson, Ryan, says that I was forgetful before I ever had cancer & chemo!

On Donald Miller and Christ outside the church

image: Amy Corron Power

Donald Miller recently wrote in his blog, “I don’t connect with God by singing to Him.” Well Don, I don’t either.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t sing to God. But I find that the only time I do is in church on Sunday for about 20 minutes. At times I find myself being drawn closer to God by music, including Christian music, but those songs somehow never make their way into the worship center.

Plus I don’t sing well. While I knew this all along, it became glaringly obvious to me when I attended a Reformed Presbyterian church in college. At RP services no hymns are sung, and there is no musical accompaniment. The congregants sing the Psalms a-capella, often breaking into multiple lush harmonies as the verses change. I just stood and listened. It was beautiful, but I was a spectator, not a participant.

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The good stuff

I realize as I write this that it’s tempting to dwell on the difficulties of this position. Yes there are many, but the positives are just as numerous. Here’s just a few I’ve experienced:

A stroke patient who, while she is only able to say “yeah” most of the time, forces out “I’m glad to see you” when I visit.

My dementia patent who holds my hand like I’m her boyfriend every time I visit.

Every veteran who has shared a story about their service. I’ve known a man who survived days at sea after being torpedoed, another who was supposed to have lifted the flag at Iwo Jima if he hadn’t hurt his ankle, and another who was the only one in his platoon who survived the landing at Normandy because he was stateside getting married.

Baptising a patient just a few weeks before he passed, then passing the framed photo on to his widow.

Seeing folks’ faces light up when we present them with a birthday cake.

Having a patient tell me that they want me to do their funeral.

To reassure someone that, after 80 years, they’ve done a good job.

To appreciate the silence and quietness of God’s presence in a room as someone sleeps.

To give someone the final blessing they will ever have in this life.

I’ve met one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s secretaries, an engineer who helped design the World Trade Center, and a man who ran the drill that dug the Holland Tunnel.

I’ve heard stories and met people that will be with me all my life. And that is good.


Another sample CPE Verbatim: Depression and Significance

I thought I’d throw another of my verbatims out there as a sample, Feel free to read over and comment. Just remember that I OK all comments so don’t bother being an idiot.

Samuel Blair                                                                                                                  Verbatim 4

Date of visit: 11/18/10

Length of visit: 30 minutes (1:15p-1:45p)


1)       Theme:  An emotional theme that came up during this visit was one of disappointment and sadness.  I felt this coming through the visit and the patient expressed herself in such a way that I was able to empathize with her rather quickly.  I felt her disappointment and sadness during the visit and left me feeling both with and for her.

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Joshua 4: Message for a facility memorial service

I thought I’d pass this recent message from a memorial service our hospice hosted at a personal care facility. They had started a rock garden and we donated a tree to serve as a memorial marker.

…Joshua said to them: “Cross over before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.” Joshua 4:4b-7

This scene marks a pivotal point in the history of Israel. This nation of former slaves has survived forty years in the wilderness, scraping by only at times by means of miraculous intervention, to arrive at the land promised to them several generations before. Nobody who heard that promise is alive to see it fulfilled. Even Moses, who lead the bedraggled group for those 40 years and who was for all that time their closest connection to God, died before this scene. This nation of nomads has finally arrived at the end of their journey from slavery to freedom.

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1 Corinthians 13:1-7, for a funeral


1 Cor 13:1-7 If I speak in the tonguesof men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

These words are often heard at weddings, not at funerals. But they are just as appropriate. In marriage we see the romantic side of love, the love of one for another. But in reflecting back over an entire life we can see how that love flowed out to others, to see the hard work that it did in tough times, and to see that love is not merely something that is felt but something that one does.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, he was writing to a church divided. There were rival groups fighting for attention and power while more serious issues were being ignored. They were boasting about their wisdom and knowledge, but Paul was pointing out that their wisdom was futile. The church was “majoring in the minors” to borrow a phrase. Paul responds to a number of their questions about the order of the service and so on, points out where he sees them in error. And then it’s at this point that he points them to the “why” behind the “what to do”. Continue reading

No-handed trust

It’s been just over two weeks without a job, and the fear is starting to kick in. I’ve had three serious interviews, but one was only for a per diem position and the other didn’t pan out. The third, with CCO, is still in process. However the fact that things aren’t sure yet bothers me. it’s unrealistic to expect a job so soon I know, but my unemployment is still not settled (I apparently haven’t worked anywhere) and my final paycheck hasn’t yet arrived. I had hoped those would have been resolved by now, so doubt is stealing the peace I had.

However I think that this is all still part of my own learning to trust God wholeheartedly. As a teen I would occasionally go on ropes courses with my youth group. The phrase you heard all the time was “let go of the rope!”, meaning the rope that connected you to the safety line overhead. Holding on to the rope made you feel more secure and was a purely instinctual reaction: “if I hold on to the rope I won’t fall”. However holding on to the rope also immobilized you as you couldn’t use your hands to move around or balance yourself. You had to trust that you weren’t going to fall even if you weren’t holding the rope – you had to let the rope hold you.

This is a hard task for anyone, especially those of us who are still struggling with confidence and trust in God, ourselves, or even those closest to us. Trusting God isn’t holding on to Him with both hands, hoping you won’t let to, it is trusting enough that he has you that I can let go with both hands.

The Fearful Pastor

While occasionally the Gospel Coalition Blog makes me wince, I thought this article/reflection was right on target concerning how often even our ministerial leaders work from a perspective of fear and distrust. As do we (and me) I’m sure.

“Perhaps this is an infrequently shared secret of pastoral ministry; that is, how much of it is driven not by faith in the truths of the Gospel and in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, but driven by fear. It is very tempting for the pastor to load the welfare of the church on his shoulders and when he does, he ends up being burdened and motivated by an endless and every-changing catalog of “what ifs.” This never leads to a restful and joyful life of ministry, but rather to a ministry debilitated by unrealistic and unmet goals, a personal sense of failure and dread.” Paul Tripp

Read the whole article below:


What are You Fasting From?

Ok, maybe my grammar is a bit sketchy title-wise, but I like it.

I never fasted in my life, save for bloodwork or the occasional operation. Most of this came from my Presbyterian/Calvinist upbringing, which saw fasting as something a bit too “Catholic”, which is code for works-oriented. It was spiritually good but unnecessary at best, idolatrous at worst. Lent tends to be interesting at times because, as I’m the hospice chaplain in a secular company, I’m seen by some as this pillar of sacredness. Especially by our Catholic staff. It freaks them out when on a Lenten Friday I pull out a ham sandwich and dig in. It has provided some opportunites to teach what I know about grace and works.

But I’m rethinking things a little this year. Not so much about abstaining from food or drink or whatever. I understand why fasting from things that are pleasurable is supposed to connect us with the suffering of Christ. However there have been plenty of folks who, rather than fast from something, try to increase the good that they do. I think that’s a good way of looking at things and not quite so self-centered. But I was thinking today that if I’m going to fast, I’d rather fast from the things that pollute my life…worry, fear, self criticism. Life without chocolate only promotes misery and desire. But life without worry for 40 days? Hallelujah! What would it be like to not be afraid for 40 days, or critical of myself or others, or anxious? What can be more enriching and spiritual than that?

So I’m going to fast from worry. What are you fasting from?