Better Because of Your Part in my Journey Lisa …

Source unknown but deeply appreciated.

Source unknown but deeply appreciated.

My journey was interrupted.  But only for a quarter of a century.  It turns out, however, that the detour I took was a blessing in disguise.  I thank my lucky stars that our paths crossed when they did and that I got to be your practicum student when I decided to resurrect my childhood dream of becoming a counsellor myself.  It is a blessing that I never take for granted.

Were it not for that lengthy delay, I would never have had the privilege of learning from you Lisa.  I would have missed out on marinating in your quiet strength, your gentle determination, and your impeccable integrity.  I would not have seen, first hand, how it’s possible to be tough enough to invite the transformation necessary for a client’s healing,  and yet, tender enough not to scare off or harm the wounded souls seated before you.  Yes, I learned so very much from you.  And, fortunately, I still get to … since we are both employed at the same agency.

You were my very first experience of witnessing how one applies all that academic therapeutic theory into a genuine and sincere practice.  Thank you for helping me traverse the distance between ‘knowing’ what I was taught to do when you have real aching human hearts seated before you … and … actually ‘doing’ it.  It can be tricky … it reminds me a little of making bread.  Having a good recipe is no guarantee that you’ll get a good loaf.  The best of bread makers will tell you that you have to have a feel for it.  I believe that is true … with bread dough and human hearts.  A little more of this … a little less of that … tweaking the therapeutic ‘recipe’ to suit each unique context and tailoring it specifically for the palate of each individual …  intuitively sensing your way to a desirable outcome.  And THAT you do.

I would also venture to say that ‘safety’ is the greatest gift a counsellor can offer to another … whether you are working with a client or one of your practicum students.  It is so rare (and yet so critical) to feel emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually safe with someone. I marveled as I witnessed you create a sense of safety for your clients.  I admired the way you honored their perspectives and saw the light in their souls despite the darkness they were experiencing … and often … despite their own debilitating self-recriminations.  With you, it was/is safe to be real – to spill the good, the bad and the ugly … with no fear of dismissal, rejection or condemnation.

And, Lisa, I owe you a heart full of gratitude for being that kind of  safe someone for me too …  both personally AND professionally. I have always felt safe enough to ask when I didn’t know … safe enough to admit my errors and my vulnerabilities … and … safe enough to bare my worst fears.  But perhaps, even more importantly, I have felt safe enough to let you into my own fragile and tender heart space (and THAT doesn’t happen very often.) 

It seems to me you are exquisitely skilled in things that simply can’t be taught.  I trust you implicitly to be a great steward of the bruised souls who arrive before you with rumpled hearts and discouraged spirits …  wrestling with the darkest parts of their most painful perceptions.  And, I know you will carefully cast a little light … inspire a gentle glow … illuminating their hope for brighter tomorrows.  I know you will find a way to help them reclaim their belief in themselves and/or find faith in the potential for possibilities that are currently eluding them.  From where I am looking, your compassionate perceptiveness, your expansive wisdom and your sensitive intuitive heart are a remarkable combination when it comes to helping people find their way.

And … despite your wealth of experience in the field, you remain so incredibly humble.  It’s beautiful to watch you in a staff meeting.  I notice how you make room for everyone to speak their mind … and then, should you decide to speak, we are all EARS, because we trust you will say something worth hearing. There is a compelling question that persistently gnaws and niggles its way around my consciousness … curiously beseeching me to check before I speak … about whether or not what I have to say would improve upon silence.  And I have noticed that when you speak, Lisa, you invariably improve upon the silence.  Yes you do.  And we are all the better for it.

I marvel at how you so graciously wrap your perceptive insights with such kind and compassionate energy.   I deeply respect how you lead your life and live your days with such genuine compassion … an authentic reflection of the kind and caring heart within you.  I have always been inspired by the way you practice what you preach. It is not always easy to do that, especially in our field … but you definitely walk the talk. And … I admire how you invite people to be the best version of who they can be in the world … and yet simultaneously … you loving accept each and every one of us for where-ever we we may be along that long and winding path.  What a gift it is to be gently stretched but compassionately supported and encouraged, every step of the way …

I could say so much more, but I hope you are getting a sense of who you are and have been to me.  Thank you for being such a critical and significant part of my journey … both personal and professional.  You have been an exceptional mentor and I remain grateful that I get to continue to share space with you and to learn from you. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, I would not be the same without you … I really wouldn’t.  I am so much better at what I do … and … at who I am becoming because of you.  Thank you … from the deepest place in my heart.

With deepest reverence for the treasure of your being,  Karen


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God, Heaven and Hell: Better because of you … Mom

light remains

It’s my mom’s birthday today. She would have been 89 today … well, unless you asked her. Then she would have been 87. I found out after she died that she had been fibbing about her age … but just for all of my life. I thought my aunt made a mistake when she cited her birth date in the obituary. I guess back in that day, you didn’t want your fiancé to know you were older than him, so she claimed the birth year of her baby brother who deceased at 8 days of age. I found out a lot about my mom after she died …

I am a bit ashamed to admit that much of the time, I didn’t really appreciate her. I was aching to be one of the girls with the ‘white-picket fence’ moms. You know … the ones who baked cookies, had ‘sit-down’ suppers, attended the PTA meetings and took their daughters shopping for grad dresses. I was so envious of the girls who had mowed lawns, and siblings (especially the ones with older brothers who watched out for them). I wanted to be one of the girls that didn’t get their winter boots with a welfare voucher. And … I desperately DID NOT want to be the girl who found out their mom had been picked up for shop lifting. I hated being her. I know ‘hate’ is a strong word … but it really fits right here. I also hated that I got the mom that was found wandering aimlessly on the other side of town, crying and confused and they had taken her to the psyche ward. I didn’t want to be the one going to foster care … again. I wanted to be the one feeling sorry for the one going to foster care …

As I got older, I wanted the mom who made you chicken soup when you were sick, quilted baby blankets and brought casseroles for your freezer to celebrate the arrival of your new little cherub. I think I would have given up chocolate to have a mom who babysat your kids for you. I wanted the mom who would ‘be there’ when you didn’t think you could be a mother for even one more minute without hurting someone. I didn’t want the mom in a wheelchair. I wanted to be the girl that received calls offering to help instead of requesting it.

I really do miss what I wish  it could have been. BUT …

If I step out of THAT pity party for long enough, I can only feel so deeply blessed for all that we DID have. I had a mom, who gave up the very little that she did have to make sure I got the 36” bell bottoms from Black Sheep Boutique that all the two parent kids were wearing. God only knows what she went without and/or had to finagle so that could happen …perhaps this is where the shoplifting comes in?  I had the mom who slept in the front seat at the drive-in so my friends and I could eat popcorn in the back seat. I had the mom who talked with me for endless hours (even on school nights!) about deep philosophical subjects.  I had the mom who read cutting-edge books on psychology, religion, and new-age spirituality. She invited me to read them too.  She never once judged me for reading The Happy Hooker either.

And … what about God, Heaven and Hell?  I had the mom who equated God with LOVE. She said you can’t find God in a moment devoid of LOVE. I believe her. She told me that Heaven isn’t a place you go when you die … it’s an energy you experience when you are serving the greater good. She said Hell was the opposite. Hell was when you were out of integrity with your soul. It was when your spirit was suffering. That is pure hell.  I believe her. 

I had a mom who agreed to let me smoke at the age of 13 so I wouldn’t have to lie, sneak or betray my integrity about it. With her permission, I bought my first pack of smokes with two girlfriends. It cost us 20 cents each. (I forget who got the one cent change).  We each got eight ‘Craven M’s and we smoked them over tea and peanut buttered toast in my friend’s upstairs bedroom. I had the mom who trusted me to set my own curfew. And I came home on time. I had the mom who would put a few dollars (that she didn’t have to spare) into my wallet.  I would find it later, when I was out with friends.  I had the mom who never chastised me for getting puking drunk on dark rum and coke at my boyfriend’s sister’s wedding … she let the consequences teach me instead. I had a mom who bought ‘abstainers’ insurance instead, explaining that it was the best option given our meager budget. If I wanted to drive, I had to promise I wouldn’t drink. She trusted me. I was worthy of it.  I had the mom who left that car with me for a summer college class five hours away from home. She, despite her disabilities, opted to take the bus herself instead.

I had a mom who adored me.   She made sure I believed in myself … and … she cheered me on the very best she could. I had a mom who I KNEW BEYOND A SHADOW OF A DOUBT that she LOVED ME to the depths of her being. I’m not sure who I would have become had it not been for her unfailing love of me. Despite all her challenges … and … all the ways she was unable to ‘be there’ for me, I always, always, always KNEW she loved me. And yes … LOVE bridges darkness.

I really am so very grateful for all that we DID have.  I’m not sure I ever told her.

So, today, I am celebrating my mom because the light of her soul is still etched into my heart. And … her undying love is probably responsible for inspiring the very best parts of my humanity. There is no doubt about it Mom … I am so much better because of you … XOXO

Happy 89th 87th Birthday Mom!   And … thank you.   I mean it.  XO Karen


I am deeply grateful for the opportunity for this essay and I to be part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!