Four-Footed Ministers-Spiritual Sojourners

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Alya, Four-Footed Minister, here. Mom decided to let me upload some “selfies” that let you all see that ministers love to get out and “re-create” themselves because self-care is an important part of ministry.

Because I don’t have thumbs (drat, though dew claws can often can function as such), I had help from Mom who did the typing and my good buddy at Lazy Dog, Crazy Dog, Bel. Bel actually snapped the pictures you see here and did an AWESOME job capturing my best side.

Blessings and remember to take time to “re-create,” doing whatever gets you in touch with God who is constantly delighting in His creation.

Alya

Mar 8

Appropriate Addition for Lent

Faithful Readers:

If you happened to purchase my training manual on dog ministry (see link below), you will notice that I have included examples of the dog-ministry prayer-group gatherings that made up the Maryville study. In the 2013 publication of a new Pet Partners’ Student Manual, there was greater emphasis placed on hand-washing to insure that everyone who interacts with the dog team is safe. 

In discussing this additional emphasis on sanitation with a colleague, I was at a loss of how I might incorporate this into our group gathering without breaking the prayerful atmosphere we had created. The solution suggested by my colleague was to pray Psalm 51 out loud. Thus, before the concluding prayer, I pray verses 3 and 4 from Psalm 51 and have my attendees repeat the segments of these verses after me as I go around the room providing them with a dab of hand-sanitizer. This is a great and unobtrusive way to help all my elder attendees to get their hands clean and ask for God’s forgiveness.

The training manual for dog ministry can be found at:

http://www.iuniverse.com

ISBN: 978-1-4759-7208-5 (print copy)

ISBN: 978-1-4759-72092 (eBook format)

Thanx for your support of Dog Ministry.

Dr. J and Alya

The latest pictures from Rev. Tanya and Bella.

It just goes to show you how much a good belly rub is appreciated by our Four-Footed Minister!

Blessings on your life journey.

Update on a Four-Footed Minister in Training

Below is an update from Rev. Tanya and her Four-Footed Minister in Training. Pictures to follow—
Bela is now 8 months old and while she’s demonstrating adolescent behavior at home (she refuses to come out of her crate when I have her harness in my hand), she continues to do very well while at work and school. Her trainer is very please with her behavior. We are halfway through with our 3rd puppy training course, and we have signed up for our 4th class which will begin in March.  She’s working on her down stays, increasing duration and distance.
She did beautifully on the train today- keeping her down for most of the 40-minute train ride. Along the way we met a lawyer who had a lot of questions about therapy work, training, and certification/registration. We had a lovely chat while Bela practiced her “down stay.” It was a lovely train ride.
When we got to the church Bela went immediately to the security guard stand to look for her favorite security guard and did a nice sit while being loved on. Next, we headed to the second floor and the church offices. Bela was greeted by staff and by a group of college students who had just arrived at the church for the afternoon tour. Bela did extremely well as the students took turns petting her and loving on her.
We are now settling in to our work in my office. Bela is playing (currently maneuvering a treat ball to get her lunch) and I am organizing my thoughts and to-do list. It continues to be a pleasure and a joy to share Bela with others. She truly is a gift and despite her adolescent behavior and she continues to bring joy to the many people she meets. We appreciate your prayers as we continue the training process. It takes lots of work, practice, and patience (both on mine and Bela’s part- she often gets impatient with me :) ). 
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Tanya and Bella 
Feb 5

Conclusion-Child’s Play for Elders in an Assisted-Living Facility

Conclusion

            This brief exploration of several strategies discussed in Siegel and Payne Bryson’s book on parenting, has demonstrated that the spiritual/pastoral-care provider can effectively utilize several of their techniques in spiritual/pastoral care, though they must be reframed for an assisted-living elder population. Using dog-ministry prayer-group gatherings as a structure for spiritual encounters enables the members of this population to tell their stories in a supportive and spiritual context. With these valuable additions to the tool kit, the spiritual/pastoral-care provider can more effectively go about their holy work of demonstrating God’s compassionate care to the least of those in the Kingdom, thus, fulfilling their mission.  

 Blessings!

Dr. J and Alya

Feb 5

Child’s Play for Elders in Assisted-Living Facilities - Strategy

“Remember to Remember”

            Siegel and Payne Bryson offer a wonderful discussion prior to launching into this strategy, that concerns the different types of memories that need to be integrated by the brain through the “search engine,” the hippocampus.[1] Life experiences are actually encoded as a series of associations rather than filed away as one might file a paper document. Moreover, the state of mind when you encode these memory associations and the state of mind when you attempt to access it, change that memory.[2] The authors explain how those activities that we perform without thinking are encoded in the brain in a way that we do not have to consciously think about the process when we need to perform it—we just do it. These are termed implicit memories. When we recall a specific event that is part of a routinely performed activity, this is termed an explicit memory.[3] The author explains how she helped her son explore his fear by using “narrative to help his implicit memories become explicit and full of meaning.”[4]  The spiritual/pastoral-care provider through sacred story can help the elder to integrate both types of memories to make sense of their own life story.

            In this particular strategy, it is suggested that a parent use various ways to have the child remember the daily events of their lives, for “like so many functions, the more we exercise it, the stronger it becomes.”[5] Siegel and Payne Bryson suggest writing a journal; an activity that science has confirmed will “improve immune and heart function, as well as general well-being.”[6] This also works with assisted-living elders but journal “writing” looks different with this population.

            In an article written by Father Dn Thomas Johnson-Midland, CSJ, OSL, he explores the issue of “remembering to remember” to help an institutionalized elder to not only connect to a community but also to reflect and remember through daily prayer, either heard over a loud speaker or read to them. Further, he wishes to raise awareness of the elder’s challenges in an institution when he states:

Any man or woman may worship in the same manner for 80 or 90 years. Can you imagine the abrupt chasm that is formed when they are isolated from their communities of faith and worship? Not only does it remove certain forms of prayer and music from their lives (other soulful items) it takes them away from a community with similar core values and drives. [7]

We take a step to create community in our weekly dog-ministry prayer-group gatherings. Because so many of our attendees in our dog-ministry prayer-group cannot read due to failing eyesight or memory loss, I provide them with a chance to journal orally through telling their life stories in conjunction with the greater story of God’s love and compassion that we explore in our scriptural/midrash readings.  My Four-Footed Minister and I try to create that sense of community that is open to anyone within the facility who wishes to come share God’s word. We are a gathering of various streams of Christianity who find comfort through hearing familiar scriptures and in telling our stories to each other in a supportive and receptive community.



[1] Ibid., 77.

[2] Ibid., 70.

[3] For discussion, see Siegel and Payne Bryson, 67-76.

[4] Ibid., 76.

[5] Ibid., 83.

[6] Ibid., 84.

[7] Father Dn Thomas Johnson-Midland, “Challenging the Nature of Comfort for the Institutionalized Elderly,” Healing Ministry 20, no. 2, Winter (2014), 38.

Feb 5

Child’s Play for Elders in Assisted-Living Facilities - Strategy

“Engage, Don’t Enrage”

            “Emotion is a central integrating process in the brain that links the internal and interpersonal worlds of the mind.”[1] It must be frightening when the individual who has little control over their world is in the position of dealing with emotional experiences but the “baby gate” between the amygdala, the reptilian part of the brain where self-survival responses are housed, has been permanently closed due to pre-frontal cortex deterioration because of brain aging.[2] The individual might have no way to engage their thinking, left-side brain and thus the spiritual/pastoral-care provider must try to engage them in other ways.

            I have found that my ministerial partner, Alya, a registered therapy dog, provides an effective way to connect and redirect[3] the person. She provides the necessary distraction needed to give the person time to calm down. Moreover, research has demonstrated that petting a dog lowers the blood pressure of both the person and the dog.[4] Presented with this opportunity to calm down and collect oneself, the person should be able to be engaged enabling the spiritual/pastoral-care person to effectively comfort and care for them.



[1] Joyce Parker, “The Emotional Brain and Wellbeing,” Therapyinla.com, Article of the Month, February 2008, http://www.therapyinla.com/articles/article0208.html (accessed January 11,2014).

[2] This analogy aptly describes the relationship of the “downstairs” brain in relationship to the thinking/processing part of the brain found in the pre-frontal cortex. See Siegel and Payne Bryson, 42-43.

 

[3] See discussion for strategy # 1, “Connect and Redirect.” Siegel and Payne Bryson, 22-27.

[4] James Lynch, “Developing a Physiology of Inclusion,” Interactions 18, no. 4, (2000): 4-7.

Feb 5

Child’s Play for Elders in Assisted-Living Facilities-Strategy

“Name it to tame it.”

            Siegel and Payne Bryson used rhyming tags to highlight each strategy that makes them easy for the spiritual/pastoral-care provider to remember. Based on the fact that the left side of the brain processes in a logical manner what the individual experiences of the world captured in the right side of the brain, the authors suggest that a parent “name it to tame it” when dealing with a child’s fears. This process engages both sides of the brain by having the individual put their story in a logical order and communicate the event in an orderly fashion. Then it is possible for the individual to experience again in a distanced way and a safe environment, the emotions connected with the event.[1]

            There is nothing more frightening than the unknown that a person has no way to capture in words. However, “…assigning a name or label to what we feel literally calms down the activity of the emotional circuitry in the right hemisphere.”[2] In this instance, with a name for that unknown, the person can tame their fear and process their feelings through their story.

            In my experience with assisted-living elders, I have found that many have anxiety because they now have the time to reflect on their own past and their recent losses. It is particularly helpful to help them tell their spiritual story, even those stories that might seem mystical or bizarre. As death is a daily reality, either physical death or the death to independence that comes with having to move into another advanced level of care, telling the story helps put things into perspective for the person. Though I have a ministerial helper who facilitates my connection with the individuals and makes it easier to break down barriers,[3] it is the stories elders tell that provide the clues for me to know how I might provide comfort and care in a spiritual/pastoral-care context.



[1] Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, The Whole-Brain Child (New York: Bantam Books Trade Paperbacks, 2012), 28.

[2] Ibid., 29.

[3] For a discussion of the Maryville study see Jerilyn E. Felton, “Gone to the Dogs: Another Vision for Dog Ministry,” Healing Ministry 20, no. 2, Winter (2014): 12.

Feb 5

Child’s Play for Elders in Assisted-Living Facilities

Introduction 

             It has often been said that as we age, we become like children. This is especially true for those elders who find themselves in assisted-living environments due to the physical and mental signs of aging that compromise their health and safety. These elders have physical challenges with daily living activities and, in some instances, possible mental confusion brought on by the process of aging. Several strategies based on brain science, discussed in The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne-Bryson, provide the basis for the following reinterpreted approaches that can enhance effective spiritual/pastoral care in dog- ministry prayer-group gatherings.[1]

            The strategies that offer most promising results are those that connect the elder to others through stories, as stories play a significant role in a life that has reduced pleasures outside of the daily, often disconnected, institutional routine. The story connection is one that is critical to the spiritual-pastoral care provider because that is the “stuff” upon which spiritual/pastoral care is based.[2] Human beings are “hardwired” for stories and assisted-living elders often tell their stories so often that staff, family, and friends tune them out. Moreover, many elders’ stories that are given a cursory audience are dismissed because staff and family assume the person is suffering from mental confusion.

Using the lens of brain science, the subsequent reinterpretations will illustrate how scientific discoveries of interpersonal neurobiology can be utilized effectively by the spiritual/pastoral-care provider in dog ministry to effectively engage assisted-living elders. Hopefully, these insights will enrich not only the spiritual/pastoral-care provider but also the assisted-living elder who is the recipient of this care.



[1] For more information on dog ministry, I invite you to visit my website at http://www.fourfootedministers.com and my blog at http://www.drjerilyn.tumblr.com.

[2] Jerilyn E. Felton, “The Significance of Story in Pastoral Care to the Elder Person,” Healing Ministry 11, no.  3, Summer (2004): 113-115.

Feb 5

Child’s Play for Elders in Assisted-Living Facilities - a Series of Strategies

Introduction to Series

             It has often been said that as we age, we become like children. This is especially true for those elders who find themselves in assisted-living environments due to the physical and mental signs of aging that compromise their health and safety. These elders have physical challenges with daily living activities and, in some instances, possible mental confusion brought on by the process of aging. Several strategies based on brain science, discussed in The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne-Bryson, provide the basis for the following reinterpreted approaches that can enhance effective spiritual/pastoral care in dog- ministry prayer-group gatherings.[1]

            The strategies that offer most promising results are those that connect the elder to others through stories, as stories play a significant role in a life that has reduced pleasures outside of the daily, often disconnected, institutional routine. The story connection is one that is critical to the spiritual-pastoral care provider because that is the “stuff” upon which spiritual/pastoral care is based.[2] Human beings are “hardwired” for stories and assisted-living elders often tell their stories so often that staff, family, and friends tune them out. Moreover, many elders’ stories that are given a cursory audience are dismissed because staff and family assume the person is suffering from mental confusion.

Using the lens of brain science, the following discussions will illustrate how scientific discoveries of interpersonal neurobiology can be utilized effectively by the spiritual/pastoral-care provider in dog ministry to effectively engage members of this population. Hopefully, these insights will enrich not only the spiritual/pastoral-care provider but also the assisted-living elder who is the recipient of this care.

The strategies will be posted here every week, so stay tuned!



[1] For more information on dog ministry, I invite you to visit my website at http://www.fourfootedministers.com and my blog at http://www.drjerilyn.tumblr.com.

[2] Jerilyn E. Felton, “The Significance of Story in Pastoral Care to the Elder Person,” Healing Ministry 11, no.  3, Summer (2004): 113-115.