A wake of kindness

News | December 21, 2023

St. Paul member, Deb James, reflects on her career as a mental health counselor and how she uses the gifts God gave her to help others.

A theme that runs through Deb James’ life is stepping in to fill a need. Deb and her husband Joe, both retired mental health therapists, tend to leave a trail of gentle kindness wherever they go.
Often attending the 9 a.m. service and helping to usher, sometimes you’ll see Deb and Joe at 11:15 a.m. when they know the usher crew is short that day. And Deb has embodied that selfless way since she was little.

“I appreciate the opportunity to serve. I got that when I was a child and witnessing all the ways my parents served and helped others. That’s always been important to me,” Deb said. “We’d go to Salvation Army sites in Chicago (where Deb grew up). My mom would donate clothes or have something from Sunday School to share. When I was young and not able to help yet, they gave me Salvation Army literature to read. It was so special to me. I would read the missionary and service stories. If you asked when I was young what I wanted to be, I would say a social worker or a missionary.”

Deb would go on to pursue a double major in Social Work and Spanish at Augustana College, returning to school to receive her graduate degree in Mental Health Counseling through Western IL University. For more than 37 years, Deb worked in a demanding career with the Department of Correctional Services serving as the only mental health therapist. Her role touched nearly every person with mental health needs who came through the corrections system. When she retired in 2021, she packed up her office, only to unpack it the next day at a new job where she knew her talents were needed. Now, she serves clients two long days each week as a mental health counselor with Compassion Counseling.

“With each day I try to use the skills, the knowledge, all the gifts God has given me. I’m mindful of that. It grounds me. I’m extremely focused on helping and serving others. With my career, I feel like my knowledge and my skills are put to the test there.”

Both Deb and Joe are passionate about helping people. They facilitate the Friends and Family of Suicide Support group, help with the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Walk, are members of the Mental Health Awareness Team, serve on the ushering crew, and are the first to deliver meals or kind notes to those in need.

Long days and helping others can take a lot out of you and Deb knows that part of her own wellness is finding the balance in life.

“If there are days I’m struggling to feel like I’m my best for clients, I take a step back and look at my own wellness. To be your best, you have to make yourself a priority. I’ve always tried to keep that at the forefront. Getting enough sleep, running, swimming, playing with the dog, reading. We make time for church and my morning and evening prayers. On my worst days, when everything goes wrong, my faith grounds me. Nothing can take that from you. My faith journey, that’s paramount. When I need strength or guidance, I pray to God to give me the stamina to get through the day.”

On Compassion Counseling’s website, Deb’s favorite quote is “As you move through life, leave a wake of kindness” by Margarat Hale. And that’s exactly what Deb leaves behind everywhere she goes.

One comment on “A wake of kindness”

  • Nancy Ingelson

    December 27, 2023 at 1:10 pm

    So good to hear from you in this straightforward way, Deb. Moving forward in faith and selfless giving into the lives of others for whatever reasons. I appreciate you.

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