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



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@mindspiritcenter.org

Click here for a printable flier!


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.

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.


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

Congregational Assessment Tool (CAT)

Do you want to know essential information about your congregation to make the right decisions?

The Congregational Assessment Tool (CAT)® can help.

The Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center’s trained consultants, in collaboration with Holy Cow! Consulting, are ready to work with you and your leadership to administer the CAT, a process to collect, analyze and share information from your entire congregation.
The CAT is a method of organizational listening so that leaders can move forward with decisions in a way that includes everyone, not just the voices that are the loudest, and does not rely on opinions or guesses of the few.


When might your congregation benefit from a CAT process?

1. If your congregation is in transition, for example in a pastoral search or if you have just received a new pastor.
2. If your congregation is preparing for strategic planning.

3. If your congregation is launching a capital campaign.

The CAT is also an invaluable tool for reading the overall health and vitality of congregations, to:
  • measure the level of community satisfaction and energy
  • identify the critical success factors for improving organizational climate
  • envision the future
  • gauge readiness for change
  • uncover potential resources
Thousands of CATs have been administered throughout the country and the Center is ready to help you.  For a complimentary initial consult or for more information, please contact Chris Waddle, the Center’s Director for Leadership and Spiritual Life, by email: cwaddle@mindspiritcenter.org

A different approach to the holidays

Billie Wade, writer

November traditionally kicks off the holiday season for many people. Preparation for the Big Three holidays—Thanksgiving; Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa; and, New Year’s Eve—sometimes begins in August. The time brings together a massive celebration of hope for the new year. We breathe a collective sigh as the current year approaches extinction. This year has presented us with unique challenges for which none of us could have prepared. Sheltering-in-place has been both a bane and an opportunity. As this year progressed, we found ourselves more and more uncertain as several major occurrences converged. But life is always uncertain, always has been, always will be. Only now, it seems, the stakes are higher and the stress more intense. COVID-19 and the resultant fallout, racial tension, political stress, wildfires, floods, and hurricanes add to the strain of everyday living. Those in northern parts of the country may or may not be looking forward to this year’s snowfall and yet more time indoors. Our foray into the holidays this year may take on a different meaning, one of deeper reflection and introspection. Gratitude may be a balm to us or may be difficult to grasp.

Fall and winter are notorious for increasing our mental health symptoms. Long nights of darkness turn into short days which unfold in slow motion. The holidays have a way of magnifying loneliness, depression, anxiety, and addictions. In my October 2020 article, I discussed SAD (seasonal affective disorder) which complicates other mental health symptoms. A report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states: Symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States during April–June of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. Their report includes sobering statistics of the effects of COVID-19 on these and other mental health distress—domestic violence, suicide, and alcohol and drug use. You can read the entire report here.

Gauge your situation with great care and reach out when you need to. Watch for signs and symptoms in friends and loved ones and enlist help if necessary. Click here to schedule an appointment with the Center. 

Many of you know I am an avid journaler and maintain a daily practice of written gratitude, reflection, introspection, and exploration. You may not know I am an introvert albeit a gregarious one. I can spend several hours with individuals or groups of fewer than five people. However, I can tolerate chitchatting in groups of more than five people for periods of about two hours, longer if we are focused on a topic or activity, such as a class. Then, I must return to the sanctuary of my home to recharge and reset. So, the COVID-19 restrictions have been less difficult for me than for some of my friends, and I suspect, for some of you.

At first the idea of self-isolation excited me. I was almost giddy as I thought about how much time I would save in driving time, finding a parking space, dealing with traffic, inclement weather, gas. (Imagine gleeful emoji here.) Then, reality set in. Other activities swallowed the hours of travel time I saved. Whether I am, in fact, more productive is debatable. Somehow, I seem to be busier than before, a sentiment echoed by some of my friends. Zoom appointments consume much of my time, sometimes four meetings in one day. That recognition is not a complaint, but rather a statement of gratitude for videoconferencing that allows me to continue connecting with others. I love everything I do, and I enjoy working with an expanding circle of incredible people. Conclusion: Zoom is a good thing. The most popular platforms I know of are Zoom, Google Meet, and Facetime (Apple)—there may be more.

At first, self-quarantining offered many opportunities for getting stuff done—clean out the garage, organize the photo album, read from our growing stack of books we planned to get to someday, try new recipes. Many of us took up new hobbies or revisited activities we had laid aside as life took over. Confined to our homes with ourselves, we may have bumped into latent thoughts and feelings we had relegated to our subconscious years ago. We suddenly faced ourselves. This time is an invitation to acknowledge and honor our grief and to express gratitude during this year. We look toward January with hope for a “new and improved” upcoming year. It also is a call to commit to ourselves with intention what we want, where we want to go, who we want to be and create a plan to get there.

Our most powerful tools may be acceptance and action. We look at ourselves, our circumstances, our relationships, and the world at large and acknowledge that what we see may not be what we want but that it is, if we are honest, what we face. Having named the reality, we can move forward. Next, we ask, “What can I do now?” The answer may surprise you. It may be different than writing letters, participating in protests, posting on social media, or organizing a book club, although all are excellent endeavors. However, those actions are not suitable for everyone. Sometimes, the best we can do is self-care and that is more than enough. We look for ways to become peaceful within ourselves. Enhancing or increasing spiritual practices can be of enormous benefit to some people.

Then, we create a plan, any plan. Call it a vision. Call it a daydream. Call it wishful thinking. Call it an honest yearning of your heart. Give yourself more than a cursory, “I want to lose twenty pounds next year,” or “I want to save $x a month,” or “I promise to read a book a week.” These are great desires especially because they are specific and measurable. But, too often, we approach them without much thought. They become yet another defunct resolution. Think about what you need to transform your life into a self-celebration. Think about what brings you indescribable serenity. Think about the messages you recite when you communicate with yourself. Think of what brings you joy. Think of what nurtures and soothes you. Perhaps what you need is a bowl of oatmeal, a slice of toast, and a glass of orange juice.

Here are some tips for creating and executing a doable plan. (Please keep in mind some thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and patterns can be deep-seated messages we have carried a long time—even decades—and may require focused effort and patience  and, possible professional mental health support to accomplish or to heal.)

  1. Write what you want with crystal clear clarity. Try to avoid “walk more often” in favor of “walk twenty minutes every morning before work.”
  2. Think about why this is important to you. It may be murky at first. Record all your related thoughts.
  3. Define what do you need to make it happen. List every detail, then organize them into steps. Index cards are handy for this.
  4. Determine whether you need help
  5. For a list of activities to consider, see my posts: 23 Tips to Get Through the Holidays – November 2017, 23 Tips to Get Through the Holidays – November 2018, and 2019 Holiday Survival Guide – November 2019.
  6. This plan is flexible, making it doable for just about everyone. Do as much or as little as works for you. Revise and experiment and adapt.
  7. That’s it! Go for it! Celebrate the result!

Resolutions to current stressors are neither easy nor swift. Getting through this time is tough for all of us. We can take comfort in knowing we are not alone. Globally, the pandemic virtually every country. Nationally, we also grapple with myriad domestic issues. Regionally, we face natural disasters. From our states to our communities, additional problems arise. There are ways to reach out, to soothe ourselves and each other, to hold the Light of Hope lightly in our awareness, to breathe, just breathe.

Be well. Be safe. Be at peace. Cultivate joy. Wear your mask.


Learn how Bank of America cares for their employees!

The Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center recently partnered with Bank of America to offer wellness services to BOA employees.

October 2020 – It’s called preventative maintenance, an upstream approach to health and well-being.

Corporations and organizations are very aware of the many difficulties and challenges employees are facing during the pandemic and the chronic, long-term stress it is causing. One of the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center’s generous donors, Bank of America, is taking a proactive approach.

Bank of America staff in Iowa have launched a series of physical and emotional wellness opportunities for their teammates called Get Iowa Moving.  They are running four different activities every other week from September through October. Activities include, walking outdoors, guided mindfulness meditation, chair yoga, and desk exercises. All sessions begin with a reminder of the benefits and programs the bank offers and how to take advantage of them, especially though their employee networks. Bank of America knows that members of their employee networks feel more connected and engaged at work, which is an important component of overall wellness.

Annie Brandt

“I was talking with my market president about ways we can connect with our team in this virtual world, and she reminded me of her often repeated mantra, ‘Move your body, heal your mind.’  I thought of the things Bank of America is offering teammates across the country like chair yoga and guided mindfulness meditation. I thought it could be a fun way to further engage our Iowa teammates if we made it local and special for us.”  Says, Annie Brandt, Bank of America Senior Vice President and Market Manager for Iowa.  Annie is also a long-time supporter of the Center, 2019 Women Helping Women co-chair and volunteer.

Would you like to get your team involved in preventative healthcare? Learn more about the Center’s mindfulness offerings HERE.

Allison Peet

Written by Allison Peet, certified Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction instructor.

How To Choose a Therapist

Billie Wade, writer

Finding the right therapist can seem daunting, and with good reason. When you entrust the essence of your life to another human being, you step into uncertainty and vulnerability. Making the decision and following through requires bravery and courage. Your perceptions about what therapists and counselors do, or previous experiences, may trigger intimidation, fear of judgment, hesitation about how friends and family members will perceive you and place expectations on you when you enter therapy, and a host of other fears. There are ways to ease the angst and enhance your search for the right therapist.

The therapeutic relationship is among the most powerful you may ever experience. Therapy/counseling is a reciprocal, synergistic relationship between two or more people in which the sole purpose is to promote the client(s) on their path of hope and healing from difficult emotional experiences. Therapy can be rewarding and empowering. It also can, at times, be perplexing, uncomfortable, exhausting, and frustrating. It helps open the channels of discovery that lead to insights and epiphanies. You may feel you are making little or no progress. Sometimes you are so close to your experience that your progress is not evident to you. Some issues require the peeling of many layers of emotional distress. Some concerns cannot be resolved or cured, only made less intense with focused attention to healing, a process rather than a destination. The process involves a constant exchange between you and the therapist. You both listen and interpret what the other is saying, or not, voice inflection, and body language, then reflect what is heard or seen, and share your assessment.

Therapy is a gift to me. It has been an integral part of my life since my mid-twenties. My experience with the gift of therapy includes my time as a client as well as seven years as an advanced certified substance abuse treatment counselor (ACADC). I believe in the power of talking through problems with someone who is trained to hear what I am not saying, read my body language, and reflect her or his assessment back to me, thus helping me sift through my feelings and reframe my experiences. For more information about the counseling process, see my article of July 2017, The Gift of Counseling

Depending on their areas of interest and training, therapists work under a license or certification or both. Psychologists. Social workers. Counselors. Clergy. Spiritual Directors. Most psychiatrists provide medication management and only minimal therapy. Many therapists are members of accountability and professional development organizations. Therapists may be trained in several treatment protocols and specialize in one or more. They also may have a client focus, e.g., men and boys; women and girls; families; children; teens; parents; LGBTQ+; retirees, and others. The therapists at Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center all have a diverse focus, recognizing how the complexities of life impact the whole client. No client walks in the door with only one issue, although a main issue may be the catalyst for seeking help.

Our list of therapists supporting adults

Our list of therapists supporting children and adolescents

Your role is to tell the therapist, as fully as possible, your story as you understand it. Honesty and openness strengthen the interactions. You may not always hear what you want or were expecting, and some reflection may be uncomfortable. Between sessions, you are responsible for working on any assignments, checking suggested resources, and reflecting on important points. You always know more than your therapist as you are living the experience and, therefore, have information the therapist does not have. Only you know your story and the reason(s) you are there. Your therapist cannot help you with what you do not tell her or him. The therapist knows, and therefore attempts to interpret, only what you reveal.

You and your therapist form a delicate bond of trust necessary to encourage honesty, exploration, challenge, guidance, and healing. The therapist’s role is to assess and interpret your words and body language and offer reflection, validation, compassion, empathy, support, encouragement, and direction. Despite the gravity of our discussions, my therapist and I always encounter something that triggers laughter or a smile—that is right, every session. While issues are usually serious, there can be room for joy and lightheartedness and celebration. This requires an ever-strengthening bond between therapist and client. With all these elements in place, the client advances along the path of healing through hard work and the gradual opening of the golden doors of trust. I praised my therapist for walking with me through difficult times to which he nodded toward me and said, “The one sitting in that chair is doing most of the work.”

Effective therapy requires an attentive, intuitive, well-educated, and experienced clinician and an honest, introspective, reflective, open, trusting client. Two other key components in effective mental health therapy is the therapist’s mental agility and adaptability. Every client is different, and every session is different. I commend therapists for their unconditional positive regard for their clients. While they are not mind readers, they must continually interpret the messages—verbal, subverbal, and nonverbal—of every client at every session.

When selecting a therapist, you need someone to whom you can entrust your story. All of it. Finding a compatible therapist is often a process of seek and find and seek and find and seek and find. I experienced a lot of therapists over the years who did not meet my needs. I did not know how to find a therapist. Friends or my primary care doctor referred me to certain therapists. For my last two therapists, particularly with the one I have at the Center, I conducted a methodical search which follows.

I sought out my therapist at the Center by visiting the website and reading the bios of each of the clinicians, paying attention to area of interest or expertise, treatment protocols used, area of study or license, and other facts about the person. The bio of my therapist seemed to jump out at me. I called the Center to set up an appointment and asked to be placed on his schedule. During my first session, I shared a little bit of my story and asked him questions. At the end of the session, he requested that I give him six sessions before making up my mind. That was seven and a half years ago. On April 9, 2020, we celebrated our 165th session. One of the surprises about my therapist, a mutual discovery that arose organically over several months, is his interest and expertise in working with Black people. Never had I been able to discuss race relations with a therapist. You may need only a few sessions or long-term as in my case. It takes as long as it takes and is totally dependent on the therapist’s and client’s perspective of the healing or progress made.

Here are some tips to find a therapist that meets your needs:

  • Consider your reason(s) for seeking therapy.
  • Think about your end-goal for therapy, although you may not be able to pinpoint the reason at first. Usually, the client’s initial goal is relief from distress.
  • What are your preferences in a therapist: race, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, religious or spiritual background, age, treatment modalities, race relations? Other parameters may be important to you.
  • Write out what you want, then narrow the list to three to five most critical points for you.
  • Read the bios on the Center’s website for clinicians who specialize in adults; children, adolescents, and teens; or spiritual enrichment.
  • When you find a therapist whose bio most fits your criteria, fill out our online intake form.
  • Have a list of questions ready to ask at your first session, such as “What is your experience working with…?”. Take notes.
  • Pay attention to the answers to your questions and comment on points that impress you as well as on those for which you need clarification or further exploration.
  • What are the therapist’s mannerisms and voice inflections?
  • Be aware of your comfort level during the session.
  • Do not be afraid to tell a therapist your initial thoughts and even your decision if you know what it is. It is far better to decline a therapist than to enter a relationship with one you know will most likely be a poor fit. That said, there can be surprises as I discovered with my therapist that reveal themselves over time.
  • You may want to interview several therapists before making your decision. Try not to worry about offending a therapist if you think she or he is not a good fit. Therapy is for your benefit, not the therapist’s.
  • Try to relax.

The decision to seek mental health therapy is a significant step to improve your life. Choosing a therapist that closely matches your need is vital for your maximum therapeutic experience. A methodical, well-planned search can save hours of unproductive sessions and frustration and hundreds of dollars.

How you select a therapist and how you show up and participate in your healing can make the difference between a therapeutic relationship that empowers you on your healing path and one that leaves you feeling unheard. To schedule an appointment with a therapist at the Center, click here.

May your trek on your healing path be illuminating, fruitful, rewarding, and empowering.

For more of Billie’s Blogs, click HERE.

Freedom to Choose Our Attitude

Billie Wade, writer

July is the month many Americans celebrate freedom. People fly the American flag, host cookouts, and shoot fireworks. But there is more to freedom than burgers and a day off work. Freedom is a choice and a responsibility. While others may protect us from myriad harms—physical, mental and emotional, financial, spiritual, and environmental—we are responsible for our attitude, our inner acceptance or rejection of our experiences. Our attitude is one possession no one can take from us. It is one of the few things in life we can control twenty-four/seven. This means we always have an opportunity to decide our attitude.

When was the last time someone said to you, “You have such a great attitude after all you’ve been through. You inspire me.”; “You need to do something about your attitude.” We then receive a barrage of ways to “adjust” our attitude. “Look at the bright side.” “Think about what happened to me; that was even worse.” “Stop complaining and think about someone else for a change.” We tried to think and behave differently out of guilt, shame, coercion, or fear. But our real feelings and the resulting attitude did not change.

Before I proceed, I want to emphasize that all feelings are valid. They are based on our interpretation of an experience. They tell us when we have been validated and when we have been violated. Our attitude and actions based on those feelings are a matter of choice. Our words, gestures, and behaviors may illuminate more accurately who we really are and our opinions and feelings. When we are in acute emotional distress our attitude is strongest, although subconsciously, and we may speak or behave in ways we later regret. The words and actions we engage in a heated moment may reveal our true feelings about a situation.

So, what is attitude? Where did it come from? What does it do? Attitude is the outcome, the result of our interpretation of all we experience, read, observe, and hear. Our interpretations form a set of beliefs as our thoughts solidify our feelings about a person, thing, idea, or experience. Repetition cements those beliefs and feelings as our repeated experience yields the same or similar result. It begins in early childhood, the first time we taste peas or hear a word from our parents and later, when we repeat it, find out it is a “bad” word. Our interpretation had been that the word was appropriate because our parents said it.

Our life unfolded as we grew, and we received more messages in various forms as indicated above. Our experiences now included classmates, teachers, the media, religious experiences, bosses, colleagues and coworkers, subordinates, social relationships, and a host of casual contacts with others. As we develop attitudes we do so with judgment—looking at a situation with sensitivity and compassion or with blame and hatred. The former frees us to take action to benefit a situation. The latter hinders our ability to recognize the truth. Across our lifespan, attitudes are affirmed, changed, abandoned, or denied. Some attitudes are harder to change than others. And, our attitudes run across a continuum from mild to intense, depending on the situation and the importance it has in our life.

At first, the freedom to choose our attitude sounds like blaming the victim. We are told, “That’s just the way she is. Don’t waste your time thinking about it.”; “His opinions of you aren’t your truth. Just ignore him.”; “Don’t make matters worse. Be the better person and move on.” As children, many of us recited the snarky adage, “Stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” The truth is words are powerful and the stronger the emotional investment we have into the person in our life, the more devastating their words can be. We invest a lot of ourselves into our relationships, from our early caregivers to every relationship thereafter. The attitudes of others toward us can manifest in hurtful words and deeds of physical, verbal, emotional, or spiritual abuse from which many of us never recover.

Sometimes emotional pain is so intense and so deep that looking at the experience with renewed vision may be impossible. Treat yourself with the comforting of self-compassion. Use the “Self-Compassion Break” by Kristin Neff, Ph.D. which I included in last month’s column. Talk to someone you trust—mental health professional, religious leader, spiritual director, or a close relative or friend. The therapists and counselors of Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center will walk your journey with you and support you as you explore your life’s events. You can schedule an appointment with the Center here.

When I am in crisis mode, I forget I have a choice about my attitude. At those times, the thought that I can choose my attitude frustrates me. I want relief from my searing emotions. I want the other people to change. I equate the responsibility as an admonition that my current attitude is unacceptable, and neither am I as a person. I see the suggestion as a personal assault. Attitude adjustment and choosing my attitude mean giving up my freedom of perception and perspective, an infringement on my personhood. I think it compromises my right to feel. I think I am acquiescing to blind acceptance of the situation. The reality is my current attitude may not only not contribute to the solution but also may make me feel worse by robbing me of peace of mind.

However, I must take care to not try to manipulate my attitude as a form of resignation and people-pleasing, giving in to something I do not want or is not good for me. When I am violated my attitude is valid. Sometimes, so-called “bad” attitudes are seen as such by people who want us to continue to live with their abuse of us. Anger is a relatively new feeling for me, and it empowers me to self-advocate. Please know that when someone tries to force you change your attitude for their gratification, you have every right to maintain your position, always in consideration of your safety. Caution: The tightrope here is the line between our desire to maintain a judgmental and hurtful set of beliefs, thoughts, and attitudes, or admit our misperceptions, and commit ourselves to compassion, unity, and peace.

Changing our attitude does not guarantee our lives will enter a state of perpetual rosiness. Nor will we feel positive all the time. The lens of kindness does not mean we allow harmful situations to continue. Attitudes often develop over time, so they may take to time to transform. The outcome of any given situation is unknown until it is revealed. We still may not like the result. The decisions and behavior of everyone involved influence the direction of the relationship. Our new attitude, however, promotes independence and resilience when future situations flare up. It undergirds our desire to live with authenticity.

Genuine attitude adjustment requires soul-searching, honesty, and courage. Think of choosing your attitude as an act of self-compassion and self-care. Acknowledge and express the feelings as fully and appropriately as possible. The key and first step in attitude transformation are to ask, “How can I see this differently?” To look at a long-held belief and the resultant attitude means exploring the roots of the belief and how it fits, or not, into your life now. Does it represent what you really feel? Is it in line with your values? Does it cause harm to you or to someone else, whether that harm is physical, financial, or otherwise? Then ask, “What do I want to do about this situation? What are my options?” With whom can I collaborate?’ Our attitude leads us into action or inaction.

There is freedom in choosing our attitude. We get to say what is okay in our life and what is not. We decide how to approach situations. Our freedom lies in our ability to be honest with ourselves with full recognition of and respect for the role of others in the encounter. We acknowledge, sometimes with great difficulty, the feelings and attitudes of other people. Dialogue and interaction can be instrumental in the process of attitudinal change.

I have said before that when I rely only on my perceptions without consideration of the other person, I am wrong one hundred percent of the time. I challenge all of us to explore our minds and hearts with intention to discover our misperceptions and seek out ways to learn the truth. Reach out to people different from you. Ask questions. View everyone as a learning opportunity. Enjoy the new life you create for yourself by the education you gain from others.


For more blogs by Billie, click here


Billie Wade, writer

Acceptance is the challenge of the day. There is no question about the widespread instability in our country and in ourselves. COVID-19 completely altered the world in less than six months. Weeks of quarantine and a complete upheaval of everything we knew life to be forced unprecedented changes in how we live and work. Our collective stress from fear and uncertainty has run high. As we continued to reel from the silent, invisible, unpredictable disease, we experienced the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Whether we are talking about the loss of a loved one or loss of our living standards, the global pandemic, or the graphic vision of watching a man die, our path to acceptance is deeply personal. Our global experience affects us deeply at a personal level. Like those of most people, my senses are overwhelmed. Many of us are in emotional stun mode. While everyone’s needs during this time are unique, we do share some commonalities. A certain amount of acceptance is necessary if we are to develop real solutions.

Acceptance is one of the hardest concepts for me to grasp, ranking up there with its siblings, surrender and forgiveness. These elements are at the end of the grief process, which I wrote about in the September, 2017 issue. I have a decades-long rocky relationship with acceptance. Life’s vagaries, especially abuses by human beings, baffle me. I do not want to accept the reality of an event that hurts me, usually in many ways. I want an end to the pain. The replay of the event plays incessantly in my mind. I get frustrated, angry, and disgruntled because the pain does not go away in my time frame, or at all. Some experiences produce so much trauma that we may be affected by them the rest of our lives. PTSD is born. Acceptance rolls into surrender, then into forgiveness and peace. But I fear acceptance will take away my recognition that the situation is not okay, leading me to shamefully excuse abusive deeds. I experience defeat and hopelessness that arise from feeling an inability stop the transgression or to protect myself or those I care about. My next move is to back off from seeking a solution and succumb to resignation.

Acceptance is looking at the reality of the situation’s existence with strength to seek options. When I accept the situation as a statement of fact, I receive the peace of clarity and, sometimes, resolution and closure. I can breathe again. The grief, the resentment, the despair, the anguish, the doubt, the fear of the next moment fade, even if only for a short time. I then know what peace feels like and can draw upon that feeling later. I find the good that emerged from the event or situation and express gratitude for those moments. I look for options and ways I can contribute to a healing solution with renewed conviction, strength, and confidence. I make plans and take actions to address the problem(s) created by the hurtful deed(s). I enlist the assistance of others. The experience taught me, once again, that I have another layer of resilience. I am empowered to fashion an approach with the gentleness of compassion for all involved. Acceptance comes in layers rather than all at once. It cannot be forced or rushed. We need plateaus between the layers, so we can rest and integrate what we have learned.

Many years ago, I adopted the Serenity Prayer as my personal mantra because the first tenet is to “accept the things I cannot change.” This means seeing an experience as though watching a video such as, “The reality is that I cannot change today’s temperature of 84 degrees.” But, I can wear light clothing when I go outdoors. Acceptance does not equal inaction or not holding people accountable. Acceptance acknowledges a statement of fact. Acceptance offers opportunities to look at the systemic factors in place and explore options for developing strategies and collaborating with others, including adversaries as well as allies.

Acceptance is hard, particularly when we are at the beginning of a situation. Separating the situation from our desire for a particular outcome seems daunting. Our attempts to mitigate or eliminate our reality brings on more pain.

Self-compassion helps us embrace and express our feelings in ways that do not harm ourselves or others. Do not try to force yourself to accept before you are ready. Embrace your feelings in all their forms and intensity. Find safe people and safe ways to nurture yourself during this time. Our feelings, whatever they are, even if they fluctuate from moment to moment are real and valid. Take care of yourself as much as possible. Stick to your daily routine and rest when you need to. Schedule time in your day or evening, if only for one to five minutes, for introspection and reflection to assess your present-moment feelings. Ask for help. Contact the Center here. Journal your feelings. Draw or paint or color. Here is a link to Kristen Neff, Ph.D.’s Self-Compassion Break.  Adapt and mold the exercise to accommodate your circumstances.

Look for the good in the situation or that arises from it. I am amazed by the outpouring of kindness, support, encouragement, and helpfulness of the past two weeks; indeed, since February when the gravity of COVID-19 became evident. I send a lot of emails to people who do not even know me but affect me by offering support on their website. I am validated and grateful. So often, tragedy shows us the best side of people.

In closing, the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr comes to mind: Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference. Acceptance offers opportunities to make a difference by changing the things we can, first within ourselves and then sharing our transformation with others.

The challenges of the coming days, weeks, months, and possibly years will call upon all of us to participate as we can in the global well-being. Please know that whatever you do, you are contributing. All of us need all of us.

Be well. Be safe. Be at peace.

Tips for Nurturing and Protecting Children at Home

This article was written by Childmind.org

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.”