I used to think
Loving life so greatly
That to die would be
Like leaving a party
Before the end.
Now I know that the party
Is really happening
Somewhere else!
That the light and music
Escape in snatches
(To make the pulse beat
And the tempo quicken)
Come from a long way away
And I know, too
That when I get there
The music will never end.

Grief is a GIFT from our heavenly Father. It is a gift that brings new priorities and with it, new strength for new roles and new tasks. Father designed grief and change to work hand in hand. Small change brings small disruption. Great change; like death, career redirection, medical diagnosis, and the like; brings larger, more staggering grief.

Even positive changes bring some grief. For example, surgeons teach that when a woman has a hysterectomy, she grieves the lost organ, even though she knows that the procedure was necessary and healthy. We can also know that the loss of a loved one is at the right time or that it is better for them, but we are gripped with the pain of our own feelings. It is most often major loss that brings us to counseling.

At The Keys, the counselor helps you to find the “gift of grief”. By relating to the counselor as a trusted friend, you will find out what God wanted to give you as you grieve. Maximum results are ours as we share pain and growth together. Especially debilitating is the belief that we are alone when we grieve. Knowing that we are in communal living, gives us new strength.

Jesus said, “You are blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.” (The Message) The best gift is the embrace of God! I Corinthians 1:9 is paraphrased, “God is faithful…and by Him you are called into companionship and participation with His Son, Jesus, the Messiah.”

Priorities must change when we suffer loss. Even our very identities are re-evaluated and reviewed as we put our hands to different tasks in diverse settings. All of these changes are designed by our loving Father. Psalm 25 translates, “To You, Lord, do I bring my life.” As we bring shattered pieces to him, we find new patterns in His design.

There is a profound paradox in grief. I found it several years ago, when the man to whom I was engaged to be married, died after a long term cancer fight. Eleven months after his death, I wrote a poem which best describes my experience.

The Paradox of Grief (1993)

It happens in the loudness of a quiet moment
There in the presence of absence
In the fertile soil of an empty spirit
In the healing of a broken soul

Grief…with so much comfort
Sorrow…with so much joy
Loneliness in fellowship
Strength…and yet so weak
Together though apart
Purpose as you question
Your abundance in your lack

Holding on…by surrender
Accepting what was
And is to be
Loss is gain
Hurt is healing
Sorrow is joy
Death is consumed in Life
Life in Jesus Christ

In 2007, another major loss was the death of my mother, Lena Gilbreath. Mom’s suffering was one occasion when I questioned God. One day I cried out to Him for answers. It was an unusually difficult time for her, with vomiting (the contents of her obstructed colon), pain that only Morphine would touch, weakness and confusion. Mom seemed to be wondering why God didn’t heal her. After hours of struggle, she slept and I stole out of her sick room to her garden. Out in Mom’s garden, I yelled at God. “After a woman serves you for 70 years, you treat her like this? I don’t believe it!”

God, my Friend, allowed me the comfort of crying bitterly. He didn’t interrupt my fit, but listened and came close to my broken heart. In the quiet I saw a mental picture. In my imagination was a large hand prying open the fingers of a much smaller hand. The open palm was empty. Then in my mind came this explanation, which I believe was from God. He said, “I AM prying open her hand in order to give her LIFE.” At that moment I was comforted and assured by God the Father. His intention was good. His desire was for Mom to experience more LIFE than she ever had. Lena Gilbreath was holding on to the past and the life she knew. God was offering so much more by taking her to Himself.

When God speaks…it settles everything. My pain and confusion subsided as I sat with Him in the garden. In a few days, Mom’s pain and confusion subsided as she sat with Him face to face. What a rest there is in knowing His heart.

It is our desire at The Keys Counseling Ministry to facilitate your personal growth during times of change and grief. We come to you with more than a textbook knowledge of this subject. In fact, our greatest preparation in helping is that we have walked our own journey of loss to find – The Gift of Grief.

“Blessed be the God of every comfort…so that through Christ’s consolation, we may share abundantly the encouragement that we ourselves received.” II Corinthians 1:3, 4 (paraphrased)

The most frequently asked question from newcomers at THE KEYS is, “Am I crazy?”

This question connects to a long-standing myth that counseling is only for “crazies”. I am delighted to dispel that myth.

Let’s look at some mental health tips for everyone, not just those who may be wondering if they are crazy.

We believe that healthy people come to counseling to become healthier. Most often, it is our thought patterns that are unhealthy. Psychologists call this “cognitive distortion” and some call it, “stinkin’thinkin.’” At The KEYS, we teach truths that replace common mental traps. Truths—in exchange for traps. It’s a deal!

1. All or None Thinking – is a way of seeing a person or an event as all bad or all good. This black or white perception leads us to judge others and ourselves harshly. The voice inside says, “Just give up; you’ve already blown it.” Instead of all or none, begin to realize that life is full of incremental changes and choices that potentially bring better lifestyle. Introduce truth to replace the fallacy. Pure truth comes from God. Instead of, “Just give up…” you speak truth to yourself, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” We learn to coach ourselves, in effect. We tell ourselves the truth moment by moment, if we choose to live fully.

2. Mental Filters – Like a pair of dark shades, this attitude casts darkness over all your thoughts. Think of this filter as self-defeat bleeding into your thought processes. With negative filters, you habitually ignore positive feedback to accept the negative. An example is a class reunion where many of your former classmates say compliments such as, “You are looking good!” But what you remember and play over and over again like a broken record is the comment of one who said, “You were always so skinny. What happened?”

3. Jumping to Judge – From observing the “outsides” of another, you make a judgment about their “insides”. For example, you decide that your spouse’s contorted facial expression is due to his/her anger toward you, when in fact the poor spouse is having physical discomfort. Our observations must stop at that, without becoming fortune-telling or mind reading.

4. Irrational Thinking – The result of allowing emotions to dominate our decisions is irrational thought. A very intelligent and well educated man, for example, decides that he is second- rate because he feels guilt about the past. Believers in Jesus Christ can know that He died for their sins, and yet have the mistaken idea that He forgave all but one. Irrational thoughts make smart people look stupid, because their temporary feelings direct them to more permanent actions or mindsets.

5. The Shoulds – “I should be less sensitive.” “I should look like Barbie.” “I should be more spiritual.” The “Shoulds” most often come as we compare ourselves to someone else or to a cultural ideal. Scripture teaches us that to compare ourselves is not wise. Comparison calls for judgment.

The Truth – Each of us is an awesome original with distinct and deliberate design for God’s purposes.

Many psychologists have written about this subject of how individuals attach and relate to others. The work of Clinton and Sibcy in their book, Why You Do The Things you Do, The Secret to Healthy Relationships, is biblical and easy to read. We use their concepts in our counseling practice to help our clients learn the ways in which they connect with people around them, so they can recognize and practice healthy attachment styles, avoiding the destructive attachment styles.

There are four main Attachment styles. Out of the four styles, one is the healthiest; leaving three that inevitably cause relational issues.


Styles to be aware of and avoid

AVOIDANT ATTACHMENT STYLE comes from believing that 1) you are worthy of love and capable of getting love and respect but 2) others are not trustworthy and therefore will not give you what you need.
AMBIVALENT ATTACHMENT STYLE comes from believing that 1) you are not worthy of love but that 2) others could meet your needs but might not because of your flaws.
DISORGANIZED ATTACHMENT STYLE comes from the belief that 1) you are unworthy and that 2) others are not capable or reliable to give you what you need.


The Style to Shoot For

The best of all attitudes for relating to others is to believe that 1) you are worthy of love, and 2) others are capable of loving you. This is the SECURE ATTACHMENT STYLE.

Okay. By now, you have probably asked yourself which of these styles pertains most to you, and you may even wonder how you got this pattern. In counseling, we explore your personal history in several categories (such as family, financial, spiritual, etc.) While looking at your story, we look for sensitive or unresolved areas that have influenced your choices or have come from your vows, values, or beliefs. Sometimes we begin by asking you to make a timeline of events that stand out to you. Other times, I may suggest that you relax and freely talk about your past.
However we get there, there are ways to a healthier attachment style for you.
If you want more information on this or related topics, contact me at The Keys Counseling.
Reference: Why You Do the Things you Do, The Secret to Healthy Relationships Dr. Tim Clinton, Dr. Gary Sibcy.

Do you feel proud of your brother, cousin, parents or another family member? And, other times, do you wish you weren’t connected biologically to some of your family? Did you ever agonize while watching a family member struggle with everything, and then rejoice over even tiny battles won simply because they are surviving?

My family has always given me such pleasure and pain (often at the same time) just as yours has. I know, I’m only guessing. But based on a lifetime of counseling and social work, I want to say it clearly here as a declaration. It is NORMAL to experience both pain and pleasure from relationships, but especially family relationships.

With three intelligent and handsome brothers, I have often felt inferior to them. As a lawyer, a minister and writer, and a registered nurse, they have each changed the world for God and for the good. I have been blown away by their accomplishments. Even more impressive are their relationships with their families. But in every family, challenges inevitably come. Some small, some monumental. But they do and will come to all of us.

My family is just like yours. We are human. Even though we are Christian, we often suffer the ravages of a sin-sick world. All of humanity does. But because we have Jesus Christ, we have ways to cope and tools for moving forward and doing better.

I hope you will feel free to come to THE KEYS COUNSELING with the knowledge that there will be no condemnation or comparisons. We will talk about effective tools for dealing with families, and you will leave our office feeling and doing better than when you came.

Hope to see you soon!

Every person who comes to The Keys for counseling can expect several things.

• CONFIDENTIALITY – First of all, clients are treated unobtrusively so that their confidences are kept and their decisions are their own. After 20 years of counseling and many years in helping professions, Sue is qualified to give you tools for life, but she refrains from giving too much advice. You maintain your dignity, and you will receive the respect to make your own choices. Matters brought up in counseling are handled discreetly and not disclosed to anyone unless written permission is granted by the client.
• COMFORTABLE ENVIRONMENT – Another aspect of our methods at The Keys is a comfortable environment. Many clients come casually dressed but are welcome in their surgical scrubs, work, or business attire. You will enter a waiting area and counseling suite designed for ease of function and relaxation. Once inside the private quarters, feel free to choose an easy chair and begin to talk. You are heard and cared for in our office.
• COMPETITIVE PRICING – We choose to keep our session fees very competitive. Believing that each of us values what we invest in, we ask that people come to session with payment in hand. We accept major credit cards, cash, or checks. (We do not directly take or participate in filing for insurance, but we can provide a receipt with information so you can file a claim yourself.)

When you call The Keys for information or to schedule an appointment, you may get me directly, or if I cannot speak with you immediately, you may leave a voice message. If I am in session and you get a recording, rest assured that your call will be returned within the same day or as soon as possible. In the interest of confidentiality, I do not offer online forms for direct email contact.

If you have questions, please contact me at 806 792-6154.