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Thinking Out Loud

The Lower Room

by User Not Found | Jul 01, 2013
This blog post was guest-written by Abbie Trowbridge, a gifted writer and MAMFT student at Louisville Seminary. Last May, Trowbridge's poem, Requiem, was read on NPR's 'The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor.' Click here for more.

There is a place on campus where I have found God every time I’ve looked. I’ll admit, I’m a little reticent to reveal the secret, but then again not everyone can get in so it’s probably safe if I share it with you. Of all the places I thought I might find God at Seminary, the chart room was not one of them. Caldwell Chapel? Sure. In a lecture or a practicum placement? Yup. In a moment of friendly fellowship over chicken quarters with capers and wine sauce? Certainly. I did not expect God to frequent a rather nondescript, cramped and musty room in the basement of Nelson Hall. 

I was first introduced to the chart room shortly after TSE (Transforming Seminary Education) in late August of last year. It seemed like an ordinary-enough room. Among other things, the chart room is where all of the charts for clients in the counseling center are written and kept up-to-date, along with a few old copies of the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), office supplies, a mass of re-recordable DVDs, and a reliable chocolate stash in case of sudden counseling emergencies. I didn’t understand, as the casual observer would probably not understand, that this room is a very special place.

First and foremost, you should know that the chart room is a place of departure. I’ll never forget standing next to the door, lifting the orange wooden keychain for counseling room two from a set of small hooks before seeing my very first client one day last January. There was a slight tremor in my hand, so I called up one of my standard prayers:

Hey. It’s me again. As per usual, I’m gonna need some help with this. Could you please let me do good and listen and allow space for the Holy Spirit and all that crap? And most of all please, please help me sit still and not fidget! Uh…Amen.  

I made it through that first session, clinging to my clipboard for dear life, and the next week the client miraculously returned for more. One by one, the other members of my cohort did the same, and from the looks on our faces and the whiteness of our knuckles you’d think we were jumping out of an airplane or going off to war, not heading into therapy. 

The chart room is also a place of arrival. It is the safe place where I arrive after particularly uplifting or particularly harrowing client sessions (by the way, harrowing and uplifting can occur simultaneously in therapy). Every time I have needed the listening ear of a friend or the experience of a third-year student, they have somehow materialized and were in that room upon arrival. I have always found someone with whom to share the sharp pain of witness or the joys of small successes there. And when I have needed it, I have found a clam, quiet space to sit and think and be.  

I have had many meals in the chart room, taken a nap or two, sung show tunes, searched high and low for a piece of gum, and looked up more prescription drug uses than I care to remember. I have emerged into the sometimes-chaos of my clients’ lives trying clumsily to decipher their languages. The payoff: that elusive session when I am at my best and I find the grace within me to sit still in the roar of the others’ grief and not be laid low by it. On the contrary, I find I have the strength to be present with them or offer a glimpse of hope, that previously inaccessible and most valuable of commodities. 

We may not have a Peter, a John or a James, but we do have an Andrew, a Tonia and a couple of Erins in our lower room. It’s also good to know that one can occasionally find an impromptu dance party, if needed, and an almost constant Internet connection in our little corner of Nelson. For me it’s the most wonderful and transformative space on campus, and in my experience, God and a little grace can almost always be found there.

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