Friday, October 5, 2012

The Story of "Dan"

This is the client story shared at the Pastoral Counseling Centers of Tennessee’s Fundraising Concert Last Night.  It includes a few more details that time allowed last night.  Dan’s story reflects some of what is so meaningful about the work of Pastoral Counseling.

Dan was one of the first clients I ever saw when I came to the Pastoral Counseling Centers of Tennessee (PCCT)  as a trainee.  I saw him regularly for several years.  At one time, Dan had been a fairly successful musician, but that was before he was diagnosed with a pretty serious mental illness.  When I first met him, Dan was receiving medication and case management from another agency, but he had come to the Pastoral Counseling Center because he had a strong sense of faith and he wanted counseling that would reflect his love of God.  He had had seen at least two counselors before me at PCCT.   Early in my work with Dan, he was very focused on his own needs and had a very limited way of looking at the world.   He had a very simplistic and concrete way of seeing the world; almost childlike in many ways.   He sometimes still had delusions of being attacked by Satan and being burned by the fires of hell.  He would call me in between our sessions   sometimes when he was feeling anxious about something and tell me that he was being burned from the inside out by the fires of hell.  I had no way to make sense of this, but I would listen to him and talk with him about the various anxieties in his life, and I would pray with him.  As we talked through the years, he would sometimes tell me of a dark time in his life when he was not medicated for his mental illness and when he often used illegal drugs and alcohol.  He told me of other things that he had done that he was ashamed of and we would talk about those things.   Dan had a guitar, but he had not played in a long time because he associated the guitar with those dark times in his life.  He said he missed playing and so I began to help him think of ways that God could redeem his guitar and take it back from those dark places.  We talked about how his guitar could be a way of mediating God in his life and the creativity of playing could connect him to God’s creativity.  He began playing his guitar regularly and reported that it was a soothing activity.  He would play when anxious and found some relief in that.  Though he had very little money and resources, he began to save money and periodically he would purchase other guitars until he own at least four different types of guitars.   He grew to enjoy finding the various sounds and tunes he could get from each of these guitars.

 Over time, Dan had moved from being focused more on himself to telling me that he really wanted to figure out how to show love to others.  He really wanted to find a way to share the gift of his music with others.  He developed an amazing sense of gratitude.  In the past few years he had been getting “meals on wheels” and he expressed gratitude for those meals every day.  He would describe to me the content of the meals in detail to me and then would say, “I can’t believe how lucky I am that I get this great food every day.”  At Christmas he would sometimes receive boxes from a local church and he would become tearful as he would describe to me the contents of those boxes and he would say, “I can’t believe people are so good to me.” 

     When Dan would feel overwhelmed by the things of his life, he would come and talk things through with me and he would always come back to an affirmation that he knew that God loved him and things would be okay.  I tried to work with him so that his experience that God would provide him could help him avoid feeling anxious, but he seemed to always have something that he was concerned about.  Dan took the bus to our offices and he would sometimes arrive an hour or more before his appointment.  I would apologize to him that he had to wait to see me and he would say, “It’s okay Chris, the people here are so nice and it is so peaceful here, I can just feel the love of God when I am here.”

  Throughout the time I knew him, Dan would sometime wind up in the hospital with various medical issues.  A year or so ago, he was in the hospital and had a pretty serious condition that he feared would take his life.  Because he was so afraid of dying, he called the office and asked if I would come to visit him.  I know it is not in the counseling rule book, but I went to visit him in the hospital.  He was panicked as he told me that he was afraid to die because he was afraid of going to hell.  I told him, “Dan, I don’t know anyone who has loved God more than you.  I cannot imagine why you would  wind up in hell.”    Dan told me that there were three things that he wanted to tell me that he had never told me before.  There in his hospital room, Dan confessed to me the secrets that he had never told me in the years that we had been visiting.  I have to confess that there was nothing in that confession that shocked me and nothing that  I thought was that bad.  However, for him, these were the dark things that made him feel ashamed – things he had feared confessing to anyone and things that he felt would keep him from God’s grace.    We talked that day about scriptures of forgiveness that he knew and I prayed with him that God would forgive him and comfort him.  Dan was released from the hospital a couple of weeks later and moved to a skilled nursing facility.  I got a call a few weeks later that Dan had died.  I felt sure that Dan had died with a bit more peace than he had lived with in his life.  Dan was one of the more challenging clients I ever had and I know we gave him help and comfort in his life, but I learned so much from my time with him.  In the later years of our relationship as he would find joy in the simple things in life and as he would be grateful for the smallest of gifts he challenged me to deal with my own materialism and to appreciate all that I had.  Dan was grateful to God though he did not have much of what we generally might think brings happiness.  He did a great deal with very few resources.  Dan did amazing things with his limited resources.  He carefully budgeted his money and he would pay me $15 cash each time at each session he had with me.  I am grateful for the donors who support the work of PCCT with their time and money because they make it possible for people like Dan to be seen by our counselors.  It is truly a blessing to be a part of this work.