Tag Archives: healing

A Little Girl Named Marie

My first client as a professional counselor was a little girl named Marie. She was three-

 Jeffery in 1986
Jeffery in 1986

and-a-half years old. She was non-verbal and had not spoken a word since she was put into foster care. Both she and her six-year-old sister were being treated for gonorrhea. Both of their parents were in jail.

That was the fall of 1981. I was twenty-nine years old. I was a trained volunteer for The Center Against Sexual Assault. I had been taking regular shifts answering the 24-hour hotline..

Based on my undergraduate work as a research assistant and strong statistics background, the agency hired me as a data analyst for four hours per week at five dollars per hour.

Let me be clear.

This was not the work I planned on doing forever. I figured that if I could learn some counseling skills with that agency’s clientele, then I could probably handle just about any counseling situation that would come up in life.

My real goal was to get my Ph.D., go into Organizational Psychology, and make big bucks doing corporate work, solving interpersonal and group problems, helping big business function more efficiently.

Secondly, and more deeply important . . .

I thought this sexual assault organization might hold some insights or answers into my nagging dissatisfaction with my religious upbringing. I thought that if there was a God, and I was asking that question at that time in my life, then surely there would be something to discover in this fringe element of the counseling profession.

A few weeks after starting the job, a veteran therapist there, who knew I was in the Masters of Counseling Program, asked me if I would like to help her with the children’s play-therapy group.

I said that I would like to do that.

The therapist explained that the half-dozen children in the group were pre-school to second grade. There were two sisters just starting the group, ages 3-1/2 and 6. The foster parents of these two girls were very involved in the kids’ therapy and formed a good supportive family.

The lead therapist asked me to pay special attention to the littlest girl. She was going to need a lot of help. The other children we making progress at a reasonable pace.

Over those first three weeks I used what I learned in Early Childhood Development to build trust with Marie, making periodic eye contact, smiling, using a gentle voice, encouraging her to draw pictures and make choices. Session four, she was smiling back and engaging in some of the projects the other children were involved in. Then late in that session, there was a group sing along, and out of the blue, Marie joined in.

The first words I heard from Marie were in her singing a joyful sound. From there she grew by leaps and bounds.

The thing that drove the lesson home for me was a chance meeting two weeks later at a street fair in downtown Tempe. On a crowded sidewalk on a Saturday morning, I heard a little voice calling from behind me somewhere. I stopped and turned around, the crowd parted like the Red Sea. The little girl named Marie was running up the sidewalk calling out, “Mr. Kookendall, ( She had trouble pronouncing my name Kirkendall) Mr. Kookendall, Mr. Kookendall!” Her foster parents and sister were walking hand-in-hand behind her smiling at having surprised me.

I knelt down and greeted Marie. She gave me an appropriate hug. While I knelt at eye-to-eye level with Marie, we all talked for a while. Then I watched them walk away together Marie waving as she looked back.

My life changed that day forever.

Something Godly had happened, and I was a part of it.

I could not . . . I could not . . . I could not turn away.

For me, no work in the world could be more precious.

I was right. I worked saving children for 20 years.

It was this time of year thirty-four years ago that I met that little girl named Marie. I imagine her now in her late thirties, and I wish I could send her a letter.

Dear Marie,

Thank you . . where ever you are. . . Thank you Marie.

I pray that you are blessed with healthy children,

healthy grandchildren,

Jeffery in 2015
Jeffery in 2015

and that we both periodically pause

in our busy lives

to sing out

a joyful sound.



Mr. Kookendall


GOODBYE JOE, excerpt from the coming novel GRACE AND DREAMERJoe & Shiloh

Jack sat on the porch bench, with the cold fingers of one hand wrapped around his hot cup of coffee. With his other  fingers he held up the famous “barrel photo” of Joe and their old friend from the past Shiloh, the Tennessee Tick Hound.  Jack looked away and noticed that Joe’s water dish froze over for the first time since the past winter.

Jack was pretty sure that he was going to call the vet and see when he could come by to help them with Joe. Jack talked with Doc’s receptionist, explaining the situation.  It was their hound Joe, and she talked to Doc, and he remembered Joe.  Everybody remembers Joe.  She called back and said Doc could be there about noon. Jack looked at Grace who was nodding yes. It happened that quick. The decision was made.

Jack sipped the coffee and reached for his journal. He knew he had to write his way through this. Joe was what Native People called Big Medicine, the red dog in one of Jack’s dreams in which he watched a red dog and a white dog fighting, unsure which dog would win.

Joe was a Healing Dog in Grace’s life for over fifteen years, the kind of dog you are lucky to know once-in-a-lifetime. Joe had slept on his bed on the floor next to Grace, side-by-side for nearly ten years. His Redbone talking always, always brought a smile and an outburst of pleasure from Grace. It had been an absolute joy to see him talk to her while she talked hound-talk to him, in the middle of the house in the middle of the day, and they both relished it.

Jack watched Joe close in on old age. In the last days, Jack carried Joe up and down the steps out of the bedroom, the steps on the front porch, and the steps off the back. Joe came to trust Jack in ways he never had before and would wait for Jack’s assistance whenever he needed it. Joe was able to do his daily hunt, just a much smaller circle in the end, and the old boy still got excited about finding new smells and following a trail.

No coons in the high desert of Apache Wells, Arizona.  Joe was a long ways from his birthplace of Bucksnort and the dense forests of Middle-Tennessee.  But Joe compromised and followed his nose tracking a rabbit or quail to its hiding place and flushing it. He just could not chase the critters and seemed at peace with that. Joe would find the place Jack dumped out the last little bit of milk and corn flakes days earlier. Jack stood in awe of the beauty of such creation.

As he sat quietly Jack searched for the words that might help him get through Joe’s death. He figured Grace was bound to take it hard. He held the pen respectfully and felt his journal’s pages flutter with the breeze.  As he always does, he let words bubble up, and he put them on paper, and they often flowed from his mind in illogical fashion. He found himself hearing the openning music of an old Hank Williams’ tune “Jambalaya.”  Then he wandered off into related thoughts and a major decision, and he wrote.


Goodbye JoeLittle Joe
 Me gotta go
   Me-oh-my-o . . .


With the melody in his head, Jack finished.

Are there Redbone Hounds in heaven?

      If not,
                  I ain’t goin’


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

To hear the song in Jack’s head,

click the link below, pause, scroll down, and click it again.

Hank Williams 19 Jambalaya (On the Bayou)