Thursday Re-View — Of Storms Within

S shuffled into my office at the Cancer Center carrying a worn Bible in her left hand. A middle-aged large-boned woman who had never married, she had short gray hair, men’s jeans and a plaid flannel shirt. With her tired eyes and slumped shoulders, she looked like she hadn’t smiled in years, at least.

S referred herself for issues regarding her role as primary caregiver to a brother who was dying from cancer. For the past 30 years, she had taken care of five different relatives through their cancer illness and death: her mother, brother, sister, aunt, and grandmother.

Thirty years ago, on her deathbed, S’s mother grabbed the collar of S’s blouse and made her daughter swear to “take care of” her brothers and sisters. S still felt her mother’s grip on her throat and on her life.

S fulfilled her promise to the point that she even nursed her aunt through her cancer: the same aunt who, whenever there was a thunderstorm when S was a little girl, made her niece get under the covers of her bed so that she could pray over the “bad girl” that God was punishing with his rage; the same aunt whose son raped and abused S for several years as a pre-teen; the same aunt who, when she found her son sexually abusing 7-year old S, forced the terrified little girl to sit in a washtub while she poured scalding hot water on S, calling her “a filthy whore.”


S, the “bad girl,” felt guilty that she was tired of giving up her life to ungrateful relatives; that she was mad at God for his continued punishment of her; and that she was now seeking counseling help when all of her “Christian friends” [note: her emphasis] told her that it was a sin against God to do so.

S’s spiritual assessment revealed that her paternal grandfather was Native American. When S spoke of him, her voice lowered, her face softened, and her body visibly relaxed. Having died years earlier, S described her grandfather as the only person who had ever shown her love, and the only person whom she could ever trust. He had lived on a farm, and when she visited him as a child, they would walk the fields together, hand in hand. He taught S to respect nature; that she was one with mother earth and all her creatures. The gentleness of her beloved grandfather’s Native American spirit world was distinctly at odds with the punitive God of her mother’s teachings.

A myriad of experiences with my Lakota friend Sonny seeped into my consciousness as I listened to S’s memories (see Mitakuye Oyasin). After several weeks with S, I carefully broached the topic of the dichotomy between what S had learned from her mother and aunt about the “burning pit of fire” that was hell, and S’s quiet certainty that her grandfather lived on peacefully in the spirit world. At times, she even felt his presence around her. S’s eyes widened as she struggled to reconcile the vast differences between those two beliefs. That being enough, we left the discussion for a later time.

The next week, S returned, but without the Bible that her friends had given her. However, she began the session with more accounts of the pressure she continued to receive from her friends about the counseling they viewed to be the “devil’s work.” At her pronouncement, a tiny part of me shuddered, certain that S was going to discontinue therapy. Instead, S went on to say that she put the question of counseling before her grandfather. At home, she had performed her usual ritual of sitting on the floor with his picture, and lighting a candle. She gave him my name and asked what he saw in my heart.


He showed S a majestic, snow-covered mountain with a crystal clear stream running zigzagged down its side. Her grandfather told S that my heart was as pure and deep as the mountain stream, and to trust that I would help her. He promised her that through me, S would come to know God.

The eyes of the heart, used yet another time, in yet another way. In that moment, I heard the echo of Sonny’s voice, raised in a sacred Lakota healing chant. Once again, God enacted His circles of grace.

S stayed with her brother through his death, all the while working on promises kept vs. those that were unreasonable; on justified guilt vs. unjustified; on the completely foreign thought of taking care of herself for once, rather than taking care of everyone else. And of returning to nature, where lightning was simply a weather phenomenon and nothing more. Where once nature had terrified her, now it gave her peace.

After her last session, I noticed that S had left a small grocery bag beneath her chair. I grabbed it and ran after her, only to find that she had disappeared. I asked my secretary to call S and tell her about the package she accidentally left. When I came back from lunch, the package was on my desk, with a note written in my secretary’s handwriting saying that this was for me. I opened it to find a color picture of a river strewn with rocks, the trees up to its edge splashed in fall colors of reds and oranges and golds. S described such a place as a favorite of her and her grandfather’s when they used to take walks together when she was a little girl.


There was a note typed in the corner:


When I see the wind blow gently through the trees,
I know you’re there.
When I stop to see life’s reflections in the rivers and streams,
I know you’re there.
When the scent of the flowers fill the air with their aroma,
I know you’re there.
How do I know you care?
I know you’re there.

Godspeed, S. Be well as you finally begin your own journey. Wherever it takes you, know that He loves you and that He will always be there.

Thank you for the privilege of sitting with you in the darkness. Walk on now, bathed in light, and in peace.


Today’s Quote


When I run after what I think I want,
my days are a furnace of stress and anxiety;
if I sit in my own place of patience,
what I need flows to me, and without pain.
From this I understand that what I want also wants me,
is looking for me and attracting me.
There is a great secret here for anyone who can grasp it.

~ Rumi ~

Monday Meeting — “And I Was Hungry…”

free food

“This sweet little old lady puts out food everyday to feed those that are hungry,” writes Tammy Beasley.
“Things like this show me there are people out there that still have hearts and that, my friends, gives me hope.”

Source: Kindness Blog

Thursday Re-View — From a Boy Into a Man


He was a nice-looking young man, married, with warm brown eyes that always looked down, as if afraid meeting someone’s gaze would let them in to a place where he didn’t want to go.

His needs were simple – to explore grief-related issues regarding the recent death of his father-in-law. But in therapy, as in most things in life, those simple things can become complex fairly quickly, whether we want them to or not.

Almost 2 months into our sessions together, J had a major disagreement with his wife, during which he revealed to her that someone had sexually abused him as a child for almost 8 years.

Though this rape by his stepbrother occurred nightly, no one in the house was aware of it. If they were, it was neither acknowledged nor stopped.

While J described his rape at the hands of his abuser, I was bereft of words. The details were horrific. The most heart-wrenching part for me was to see the little boy J in the adult J’s eyes; to see the anguish, pain, bewilderment and betrayal that cried out from those many years ago. In my presence, for the first time in his life, J shared the details of that loss of innocence. He bared his soul. The little boy’s eyes beseeched me to understand, and to not betray or judge him. The hurt in his eyes mirrored what I felt he must see in my own.

Suddenly, I felt a single tear trace its way slowly down my cheek as I listened to J’s story. With that, my soul embraced his and wept. J told me later that my single tear meant more to him than anything I could have said at that moment. It validated him as worthwhile, and it told him, without words, that I walked with him in his pain.


Inside the grown man who had to sleep with the lights on and the bedroom door open, who could barely touch his wife without remembering another kind of touch from his stepbrother, who felt safer in downtown Baltimore than inside his own home, was the little boy who wanted desperately to love and trust and be loved, but felt compelled to withhold himself to be safe.

As a wife and mother, I saw J as a little boy who was ashamed and embarrassed by what had happened to him, who felt responsible for allowing the abuse, and who still struggled with the fact that no one had protected him.

In listening to J’s story, I heard about the desecration of one person’s dignity; yet, I was also witness to the strength, resilience and courage of a little boy. J’s spirit could not be broken. His soul, the very essence of who he was, thrived. I was determined to fan the flickering flame of J’s spirit until it was a bonfire.

As a psychotherapist, I saw that the abuse and its secrecy brought with it shame, low self-esteem, sexual dysfunction, depression, guilt, and PTSD. Where to begin with a man who was stuck developmentally at about 8 years old?

After working with several behavioral modification techniques and guided imagery, I asked J if he had any neighbors or relatives who were about 8 years old. With a picture of a nephew in J’s mind, I asked him to compare the little boy to J’s abuser in size (the perpetrator had been large for his age). I quietly asked if a boy the size of his nephew could have overpowered J’s abuser. Awareness dawned in J’s eyes; it had not been a fair fight,, and there was nothing that any little boy could have done to overpower his attacker. In that moment, J began to forgive himself for not stopping the abuse.

Further into J’s therapy, I suggested that he write a letter to his mother, who had never acknowledged the abuse. J continually struggled with their relationship, and whether or not to have his mother as an influence in his daughter’s life. The relationship was adversarial at best, with only limited communication. The letter writing was for healing, rather than toward the eventual mailing of the letter.


It took several weeks, but at the end of a session, as he made to leave, J put a few handwritten pages face down on the desk. When I read it privately, I cried. J told his mother exactly what happened for all those years; how all he ever wanted was her love and protection. He explained how he realized that he wasn’t responsible for the abuse, and that he was not a bad person. Instead, he was a human being with value who deserved to be loved. J pledged that he would spend the rest of his life protecting his daughter from harm, and becoming a better man. What happened to him would never, ever happen to her.

J’s story does not end here; his recovery would be a complex process. He never mailed the letter, but eventually told his mother all about the abuse during a heated phone call. She responded by denying such a thing happened, and called him a liar. While J hoped that his revelation would finally give him a loving, compassionate mother, he was not surprised by her reaction.

The breakthrough, however, was in J.

The little boy’s voice had finally been heard, and in the release of his secret, his heart was opened to healing. J’s journey was long, with more work and more struggles as he integrated this new J into his marriage. Yet it now included hope for the future. The man could finally forgive, love, and accept the little boy.

The shadows in dark rooms no longer held a threat; J’s eyes saw them flooded with brightness.

My heart saw a little boy at last grown into a man.

Seeing with the eyes of the heart…

man on beach