The following is a handwritten note placed on the Smith’s front door by their Trip Planning Facilitator (TPF), Mel:
Jim and Fran,
I hope you guys have had a great first week at the V&B and wish you both the best during your second week here. I know that this past week was difficult at times for the both of you, but I have the privilege of seeing you all every day, and I know that God has great plans for you guys. As your second week begins, I encourage you both to regularly participate in a group alone and a group together. Kamiah tells me that you are probably going to join Izzie’s Cooking group, and I think that’s a great idea. The two of you will enjoy getting to know her. I’m not sure if you are aware, but some groups have post activity follow up sessions that you will greatly benefit from. I encourage you to participate if you have the time and energy.
The Smiths hit the hiking trail
V&B’s Affirmation Service is not until 10am, so Jim and Fran decide to take a walk along a path not previously explored. Like so many other trails on the ranch, this path is full of potential stories waiting to be told and experiences to be shared.
For the past week, the Smiths were separately thinking about exploring a rather shallow valley on the southwest corner of the ranch, and over a light breakfast with coffee a new experience is created. “Fran, have you seen the trail on the other side of the ranch, the one where the trail disappears into the trees? ”You mean the one that follows Owl Stream?” “Yup” Jim says, excited that they are on the same page so early in the morning. That brief moment in time was a moment that most couples strive for, search for, and sometimes never find. “Let’s do it” they both agree. After hurrying out of their cabin, taking enough time to gather some bottled water, the Smiths make their way towards the trail that follows Owl Stream. As they walk across the Ranch, there are only the sounds of migrating geese in the air and the rustle of leaves blowing in the wind. The smell of breakfast being cooked in surrounding cabins permeates the air, adding to the beauty of the morning. The only other person outside is a staff member on the lake attempting to catch his breakfast. Owl creek looks more like a snake with steam coming off of it as it gently roles out of Vine and Branch’s largest lake, a snake moving into the trees and hiding among the hills. The creek never changes in depth or intensity because the Ranch’s lakes are spring fed.
The smells of a fresh morning in the country are everywhere as Jim and Fran hold hands during their walk. Other than when they find something interesting to comment on, the two simply enjoy being with one another.
“What is that building sitting in the middle of Owl Creek?” Knowing what Jim was thinking, even before Jim did, Fran tried to convince Jim to stay on the trail they were taking “…after all Jim, it’s kind of a steep bank to get down to that building.” “No, it will be fine. I just want to see what this building is. With the wires coming out of it, it looks like one of those mini hydroelectric plants. V&B probably uses it to power some of their buildings” “Well, if you know what it is, why do you have to go and see it?” “Fran, relax and sit here on the trail. I will be back in a few minutes!” Not at all happy with Jim’s tone, Fran was unconsciously hoping that Jim would tumble down the hill and land in the mud. It was like a pattern they have repeated for their entire married lives is playing out right now. Jim goes off on a mission or task without considering his wife, while Fran is either forced or chooses to stay behind. Neither of them considers the needs of the other as Jim begins to make his way towards this mysterious yet not so mysterious grey building sitting in the middle of Owl Creek.
As Jim makes his carefully down the muddy slope, extra slippery because of the wet and rotting leaves under foot, Fran watches impatiently from above, waiting for Jim to return from his current adventure.
She sees a pair of cardinals in an oak tree and watching the two birds dance about seems to lift the resentment from her soul. She forgets about Jim as she observes them, and her mind is taken back to a recent group session that she had. Reaching, reaching, reaching into her thoughts, she recalls the lessons she has learned about what it feels like to be angry with her husband, with herself, with God, with her surroundings, and she realizes that she has a choice in this wonderful moment by Owl Creek. To Jim’s dismay, the grey building is closed to visitors, but it’s obvious to Jim that the little grey building is indeed a small hydroelectric plant used for powering part of the Ranch. His curious nature satisfied, Jim begins to remember that Fran is waiting for him up on the trail. He wishes that Fran had simply kept walking down the trail but doesn’t realize or might not even admit that he would be angry and even hurt if she had kept walking. For so many years, such thoughts and feelings were never really entertained. “Are you almost finished down there Jim? It’s cold up here and I want to finish walking.” “Damn, keep going. I will be up in a minute!” With a moment of discovery and an opportunity to share overshadowed, Fran discards some great thoughts and picks up the pace along the hiking trail. She is not interested in looking back. Finding the small and twisted access trail again was harder than Jim thought it would be, but eventually he found it and began to make his way back up towards the trail. Tilting his head up and to the left to look at an eagle soaring high above, Jim did not see the rock down and to the right. With a painful twist and pop of the right ankle, Jim was face down and covered in mud on the twisted little trail, his wife already out of site.
Angry with his wife but mostly at himself, he sits in silent and lonely pain. He gets up and tries to walk, taking only several light steps before he is forced to sit back down with his thoughts: wrestling, challenging, and confronting them.
Fortunately for Jim, Fran had decided to turn around. Maybe it was from a “6th sense” that something was wrong; maybe she was lonely, or maybe Fran turned around because nature was doing a great job with melting the anger away. It did not matter to Jim at the time why she came back but the feelings he experienced as Fran crested the hill back towards him were a mix of joy, gratitude, shock, and guilt. With a smile and look of concern on her face, “Didn’t you think I would come back for you, you clumsy bastard?” “I love you too, and I am sorry. But, I think I broke my ankle. We could make out right here in the mud instead of walking back.” “Quit playing around because it is starting to rain, and we need to get your ankle looked at. Put your arm around my shoulder and I will try to help you up. How does it feel to depend on me now buddy?” The Counseling they are receiving is now working in the moment.
They begin their way slowly up the wet and hidden trail, finally making it onto the path just as the rain begins to pick up in pace. Slowly they walk, holding onto each other for support as they go. The walk is cold and about 40 minutes long, but the suffering they are sharing in together on this day is something special; they are forced to endure the miserable situation together. It is a turning point for them that they had not expected. Finally, after reaching the cabin and a long hot bath for both of them, Fran wraps Jim’s ankle in a bandage from the first aid cabinet. The two eat a leisurely breakfast, call Mel for a ride to the local hospital forty five minutes away, and decide that Church is not an option for today. “Mel, thanks for coming so quickly on a Sunday. Jim is in the kitchen, and I think that he might have broken his ankle. Please come in.” “Wow, it smells great in here. What did you guys eat for breakfast? Smells like cinnamon rolls.” “Your nose must be pretty good this morning, and I have some left in the oven if you are hungry. The three sit at the table over breakfast, and Mel listens as the Smiths share their latest story with him. They tell Mel everything, every detail, emotion, etc.. The Smith’s also understand that Mel will share certain aspects of their latest adventure with the rest of the team, either at the next staff meeting or through V&B’s treatment plan input system.
(I do not have a really cool name for this yet, but Mel will be able to make notes on some type of SharePoint records system that allows for regular and continuous feedback from staff throughout the ranch.)
Note: Regular interactions like this one is what will make V&B a truly unique experience for not just the Client but also for the Staff as well. Further description of what chapel services will look like will be described in later blogs.
Chris Allen is a counselor and an Army Officer just returning from Afghanistan. He is passionate about developing counseling practices that best address Veterans and their families. Blog comments are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense.