Tag Archives: counseling

Chocolate Grace

Last week I wrote about friendship and the power of speaking truth to each other. I shared about my friend telling me I needed counseling to deal with a sticky, chronic family situation. I did not want to do what she suggested but I did.

I do not hesitate to get help for plumbing issues at my house or physical health issues. I get my car tuned up regularly. I Google things all the time. Why would I not get help with something so emotional, difficult and family related?

When I set up the session, the counselor asked if I was afraid of animals or had allergies. I thought those were strange intake questions until I arrived at my session and was greeted by Grace, a chocolate Labrador Retriever who does therapy alongside her owner. We had a Chocolate Lab when my kids were tiny so she looked very familiar.

I’ve seen therapy dogs in hospitals, schools, rehab centers and hospices but never in this kind of therapy.

She greeted me politely at the door and then settled down beside her owner’s chair.

I spent half of my life not being a dog person. We had some strange dogs growing up. Those dogs were not into human bonding at all so I didn’t even know it was a thing.

Then I read The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. It changed me. The entire beautiful story is from the dog’s point of view.

Now I have a yellow lab who is bonded to me like glue. She and I walk every day. She prefers to be by my side in whatever room I’m in. When we are traveling somewhere alone, even a place with no fences, I don’t have to leash her. She will not leave me. She often will give me a little lick just to let me know she is close.

Many times, I’ve marveled over my dog’s quiet closeness to me as similar to the closeness I perceive in God’s presence. Silent, comforting, near, as close to me as my own breath.

During that first counseling session, I cried. Gently, Grace relocated closer to me, laying on my foot, just a little, like my dog does. On my second visit, she actually pressed into me.

I see the world in metaphors, color, symbolism and unspoken meaning. I always have.

I believe those who have spiritual eyes see God often in unexpected places. I’ve learned not to doubt thar reality, just to receive those sightings, gratefully. I am a God of surprises, so look for me everywhere. Jesus Always, p. 267.

When you are working through hard things, talking to a stranger through your tears, trying to find a way and Chocolate Grace lays gently on your foot, then presses into you, you are home and God is close.

For by Grace you have been saved by faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God….Ephesians 2:8

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, Mimosa to Keller and Pace, breast cancer survivor and dog lover.

That’s What Friends Are For

Today’s blog requires you know the following:

I am not good at admitting I’ve run out of resources, ideas or strategies for solving problems. I am overly responsible, even about things that are not my responsibility.

I am also not great at showing how I truly feel about something. That is partially created by the training I received to be a pastor and my professional need to appear as if I have it all together when speaking, teaching or leading worship services.

For the last fifteen years, my extended family has been dealing with a family member who is not doing well due to mental issues and substance abuse. This has been a long, worrisome, exhausting, roller coaster of a journey. In the last months it as taken another downturn and lately I’ve come to the brick wall understanding that I’ve run out of resources.  Maybe you or someone you know struggles with something similar. Maybe you understand the heartbreaking feeling of wanting to help yet being unable to.

As luck, schedules and providence would have it, a friend and I spontaneously got together for coffee. For some reason, she asked about this family member. She knows the journey I’ve been on. We had lots of other things to talk about, yet she asked about this first. She remembered.

Then, she listened to my latest heartbreak over no longer knowing what to do. See point one above.  She helpfully shared a couple of examples of her own of this dynamic and how it has played out in real life.

As we wound our way through the conversation, I cried. I don’t cry in front of others much, especially in the middle of Starbucks. See point two above. She cried with me. She literally cried with me. Real tears were rolling down her face.

She prayed. She stopped talking and prayed with me. She just took my hand and prayed a one line prayer for God’s help because it seemed too big for both of us.

Then she took a breath, looked me in the eyes and spoke truth to me. She said, “You need counseling. This is long, ongoing and sticky because it is family and you need outside counsel. You just do.” I told her that’s what I usually tell other people, not what they tell me. She said, “I know but I’m telling you.”

She was right. Her words pierced my heart.

This what friends do for each other. She remembered and asked. She listened. She felt it so hard. She cried with me. She prayed. And, then she told me the truth, to my face, briefly, adamantly, with love. When she spoke that truth, it resonated in my soul and I knew she was right.

Oh my goodness, I am so grateful for her in that hour, on that day, with this situation.  I want to be exactly that kind of friend.

Above all, love each other deeply. 1 Peter 4:8

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, mother of three, Mimosa to Keller and Pace, breast cancer survivor and struggling family member.