Te Deum and The Renfro Valley Gatherin’

This post is different from my normal goofy, tongue-in-cheek stuff. I just thought you should know.

Sundays for me were a mixture of anticipation baptized in dread, inspiration wrapped in insecurity, and anxiety that has a life of its own. I didn’t look forward to Sundays at all, and I was the pastor.

I was like that story about the mom who woke her son.

“Honey, get up.”

“I’m not going to church,” her son mumbled.

“Please get up, you’re gonna be late,” she said a little louder.

“Mother, I don’t want to go! I don’t like going to that church!” the son said loudly and covered his head with a blanket.

“You have to go! The people aren’t going to understand if their pastor doesn’t show up.”

My favorite time of the week was Sunday night after church. I had seven whole days before I would have go through it again.

The preaching part was easy. I’ve never been afraid of getting up in front of groups large or small. Singing and playing the piano was also easy. I’d performed in front of thousands in the past. However, it was actually being close to people that was my problem.

Trying to be helpful, a fellow pastor gave me a book called, “They Smell Like Sheep,” that described a shepherd’s love for his people. I never read it.

Once during a meeting with a group of pastors, someone mentioned another colleague who had recently retired. When asked if he was enjoying retirement, the former pastor said, “I miss the burden of the people.” I thought he was crazy.

I remember a conversation with a talented pastor and friend who told me, “If I could just visit my people and preach I’d be the happiest man in the world.” He hated administration. He was my mirrored opposite. He died suddenly at the age of fifty-one while on a mission trip. I preached in his pulpit for five months, trying to help the congregation heal while they searched for a new pastor.

A church we attended for several years had a wonderful pastor who once lamented, “My biggest challenge is staying away from the church on my day off.” I just didn’t understand that.

I genuinely admire and envy pastor-pastors. The ones who eat, sleep and drink their love for ministry and people.

For me, surviving Sunday mornings was hard. Each week I had to get my mind and emotions in the right place.

I got up at 5:30 and listened to a music program on WJR with the theme song, “The Little Lost Dog.” I don’t know why I listened to it because the song made me feel sad to think about a puppy wandering the streets alone. But I liked listening to the voice of the host.

The Renfro Valley Gatherin’ came on next. The show featured a combination of old hymns and country mountain music with lots of dobros and harmonicas. I pictured myself there in the hills of Kentucky.

I had two hours to prepare myself for what was to come. It was like hiding behind the cereal box fort before going to school when I was a kid.

Setting the mood was very important and routine helped make it happen.

Eventually, we moved to a bigger church with many more people and responsibilities. The more administrating I had to do, the happier I was.

My Sunday morning routine remained the same, but I used different music. Every week I listened to John Rutter and the Cambridge Singers’ “Te Deum”, an album that included the beautiful “Prayer of St. Francis.”

“Lord make me an instrument of Thy peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon.

“Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy, and all for Thy mercy’s sake.

“Oh, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console. To be understood as to understand. To be loved as to love.

“For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

After another eight years of personal struggle and a year of weekly counseling sessions, I decided to retire. I was in ministry thirty-one years in various capacities, including seventeen years as a pastor.

Maybe I would have been okay if I could just preach and go home week after week, after month, after year. But then, that’s not a pastor, is it? Pastors smell like sheep from living among them. Preaching is farther down their list, trailing behind loving, visiting, and caring for people.

I went back to school at a local university for teacher certification in secondary Social Studies and Psychology. I completed a year of student teaching with two hundred and seventy-five eighth graders.

After a few years of substitute teaching, I returned to school again for a Master of Arts Degree in Educational and Professional Counseling, which I received in 2011. Although I was studying to provide help for students and clients who were struggling in various ways, I was learning a great deal about myself. My master’s degree led to an opportunity to be a middle school counselor for five years. I dearly loved working with our middle school students.

The truth is, I still don’t like Sundays. It’s not church. It’s not people. It never has been. It is the interruption of my routine with the possibility of unexpected situations, changes, and demands. It is fear of the unknown and uncontrollable.

Everyone experiences life through the lens of their own personality and perspective.

It’s true what they say. Counselors become counselors because they need counseling. Been there.

Thursday Therapy: Your Value

How are you feeling today? What kind of day are you going to have?

Whatever you have decided about the day and how you’re feeling in it so far, it is possible to make it better. Not perfect. Better.

When you decide your personal value is the foundation of every judgment and decision you make throughout the day, you are immediately on your way to having the kind of day you want instead of reacting to the day that happens to you.

Economics is based on scarcity. If everyone has the same thing it loses monetary value. The item might be extremely useful, appreciated, necessary, but as far as monetary value is concerned, there is no demand because everyone already has it. If only a few have it, the demand is high because everyone believes they have to have it, and the price is high because there is not enough. That is economics, advertising, commercialism, and the common understanding of value in a paragraph.

Your personal value has nothing to do with economics, but you are trained to believe it does. You are constantly bombarded with messages that remind you you do not have enough, there is not enough, you can’t get enough, and no matter how hard you work, it will not be enough. The most damaging message that comes from all of this is, YOU are not enough, and never will be. You are constantly reminded that unless you have this, unless you go there, unless you’re wearing this, unless you’re eating that, unless you’re driving this, unless you live in that, you have no value. Oh, not in specific words, but that IS the message.

None of it is true.

Your value is you. There has never been another you. There is no other you. There will never be another you. We are all snowflakes! There are no two people exactly alike. There has never, in the history of humanity, been an exact repeat of anyone. Nor will there ever be.

Your value cannot be measured because there is no comparison. Your value has nothing to do with how you look, act, feel, live, think, like, dislike, hope, dream, work, play, eat, smell, run, throw, sit, or stand. Your value has nothing to do with abilities, talents, grade point averages, status, careers, awards, stars, accolades, applause, or friends. Your value is you.

Here is the key. Your value has nothing to do with anyone else’s value. You do NOT have value because someone else does not. You do NOT have less value because someone else has more. Your value is not in relation to anyone but you.

If you do not accept your value, then you will spend your life and effort trying to find it. You will value yourself when others value you. You will value yourself when you finally are able to buy that car the ads tell you to drive. Value will finally be yours when you can afford that house, get that promotion, go on that trip, receive that award, get that attention, be seen with those people. And then you will be left alone with not an ounce more real value than was yours all along. Your value is you.

The most damaging message that comes from all of this is, YOU are not enough, and never will be.

Your value is not a feeling. But not realizing your value will affect and drive your feelings. Your value is not your personality. But not realizing your value will affect whether you react or respond, whether you stagnate or grow, whether you trust or fear. Your value is not behavior. But not realizing your value will affect and drive your behavior.

Your value is you. Say it. “My value is me.” Say it until you’re tired of saying it, and then say it a bunch more.

Dale Parsons MA LPC

Thursday Therapy Thoughts

Mindfulness has been defined as “awareness, without judgement, of the world as it is, of others as they are, of yourself as you are.”

Awareness is described as “being fully present” in each moment. If we are fully present, we choose to listen and hear, and see.

If we struggle with constantly comparing ourself to others, mindfulness is a challenge. To be aware without judgement means comparison is gone. No more “I am better than…”, “I am less than…”.

Mindfulness. Awareness without judgement.

A Walk in the Woods Will Clear Your Mind

There are a crazy number of things demanding our attention every waking moment of the day. The world is upside down. Many things we thought we could count on are gone. It is incredibly difficult to know what and who to believe. Very nice people are saying opposite things.

A simple walk in the woods always helps to clear my mind. I’m not one to go venturing in forests I’m not familiar with, but I can easily follow a path. I especially like paths that have maps on a post every quarter mile or so. That way I know exactly how to get back to my car.

We often see chipmunks and there are lots of birds. On our most recent walk we were excited to spot two deer watching us carefully. We saw each other about the same time but they stayed still until we were out of sight.

A walk in the woods does a couple of simple things. Exercise is obviously the first. We can all use it. Walking is an easy activity and who doesn’t enjoy getting out in nature?

Walking is also a great way to set your mind on something other than the chaos around us. If you pay attention to the things around you as you walk, and choose to really see everything instead of assuming you already know what you’re going to see, it sends your thoughts into a different direction than the normals paths it has been taking.

That’s the point. If we don’t choose to see, listen, watch, understand, and stay alert, our minds automatically follow the paths we’ve walked again and again.

I can choose to see and think differently. It’s up to me.

Overcoming My Dam Fear

When I was very young I scooted as far forward in the bathtub as I could then quickly pushed back. All the water rushed to the other end of the tub and got really deep. It scared me.

This is Discover Prompts Day 26. The key term is hidden. I have kept my secret hidden all these years. It is going to be a freeing experience to finally release my dam fear and let it all out.

I don’t know how many experiences I have missed because of my dam fear. I vividly recall a fishing trip with a friend and my dam fear just kept coming up. Even now as I think about it I’m beginning to feel shaky. The memory is clear.

I don’t know why I’ve kept my dam fear hidden for so long. I guess I was afraid if I let anyone know about my dam fear they would laugh at me. I had terrible anxiety about being laughed at because of my dam fear.

I’m old enough to understand experience makes a person stronger and wiser. How long have I known that, and still my dam fear stands in the way. Well, today is the day. No more dam fear.

I picture the source of my dam fear in my mind, looming large like a giant, hungry, roaring, snarling lion. It’s staring at me, but I’m staring right back. I’m the one who’s roaring now. “No more dam fear!!”

I’m going to test myself and see if my dam fear is really gone. Here it is. Wait for it. Don’t close your eyes. Go ahead and look. You can do it!

Yes!! Yes!! I did it! I’m free! I can stare at this photo and I don’t feel any dam fear! Oh, that’s so great! I don’t know what took me so long! I just had to face my dam fear and tell it to be gone. Wow! I wish I had told my dam fear to get lost a long time ago!

Well, I guess I should let that be a lesson to me. My dam fear wasn’t as bad as I thought. I just had to face it, take control, and decide to be free from my hidden dam fear.

In case you’re wondering, dams really do scare me. But don’t tell anyone. It’s a hidden secret.

I need coffee.

Anxiety: The Short-Circuit

How would you define anxiety? Feeling nervous? A lack of self-confidence? An inner uneasiness?

However you define it, anxiety is real. Since it is experienced in so many different ways, and affects so many parts of life, it is difficult to nail down. Anxiety tends to lurk in the shadows but makes its presence known, often at the worst times.

Anxiety is not the same as a sense of nervousness about a new situation. For example, anyone would feel fearful about speaking in front of a group of people for the first time. That person, however, would find with each experience it gets easier. While speaking, the person with anxiety might be thinking about what listeners are thinking, whether they like what she is wearing, if her hair is sticking up in back, if he has something in his nose, if his zipper is down, what she would rather be doing, and why she agreed to do this in the first place. And no matter how many “that was wonderful” she receives, there is still an underlying uncomfortable something.

Anxiety can be a life short-circuit. It can divert energy and motivation to itself with no explanation. No matter how perfectly a circuit is designed, a short not managed becomes the focus.

What does anxiety mean to you? How do you function with it?

Your value is in you. Your life is not defined by anxiety.

Anxiety and Model Railroading

I love model railroading. It’s been my hobby since I was fifteen, and I loved trains long before that. I’ve been working on my newest layout, which, at the present time is still quite a way from rolling stock moving along the rails, for about sixteen months.

I’ve seen posts of modelers who appear to be living the dream, spending tremendous amounts of time working on their railroad as a result of this unbelievable struggle with Corona Virus. This is NOT a criticism! I applaud their dedication to the hobby, and the pictures I’ve seen are amazing. We can all learn from each other. I also know that most of these modelers are working on their layout because they are not allowed to go to work. So it’s a battle to survive. No, my problem is me. Because of anxiety I struggle with almost constantly, it is very difficult for me to stay in my train room long enough to get a lot done. Oh, I know that’s okay. It’s not a project that has to be completed on a schedule. It’s mine, for me, by my plan, schedule, design, likes, dislikes, frustrations, disappointments, delights. I don’t need approval for completed projects, but I do crave it.

I’m retired, so you would think my days might look like morning coffee, a glance at the morning news, drinking more coffee, then heading to the layout, then coming back upstairs to get more coffee. Nope. I have this constant nag that I should be productive, I should be doing something. And model railroading, for some reason in my mind, doesn’t fall into the category of productivity. Sure, it’s productive as far as my layout is concerned, but not productive in the overall scheme of needs. There is always something that should be done.

Actually, even writing this blog is part of that nagging. need to be productive. It’s something that is considered, started, re-started, edited, almost published, re-written, edited again, and then published. After which it is taken down and edited again. And yet, even with that, it’s not really productive because it’s not necessary to life. Neither is model railroading. But, on the other hand, model railroading is absolutely necessary because it can definitely contribute to a sense of accomplishment. I did it! That looks great! And it only has to look good to me.

So, the daily struggle continues. Some days are better than others, I just have to keep working at it. In the process, I will find time to work on the Maple Valley Short Line and feel good about it. Eventually, there will be trains moving. The scenery will begin to take shape. With this layout, I am determined to be incredibly detailed down to the smallest weed by the side of a shack. The win over anxiety is in the details. Little by little.

Do Something Different

Have you had the experience of driving a familiar route and all of a sudden realize you don’t know where you are? Every time you get in the car do you have to think about where to put the key? How to make the car move? How to stop it?

When you wake up in the morning, is your routine exactly the same day after day? Is there a time during each day when you begin to feel anxious or depressed?

Unless you’re sixteen years old and driving is new, you never think about where to put the key or where the brake is. You have learned it, and have practiced it long enough it is now habitual.

Your brain and your body work together to record new actions, and if they are repeated again and again, they become a part of muscle memory. You can do them without thinking. Everyone knows the old saying about riding a bike.

Feelings work the same way. Your brain and your mind can associate feelings with actions, or places, and the environment and actions can trigger the same feelings repeatedly.

Here’s a quiz. Think about school, not just the word, but the experience of attending school. How do you feel? Think about going to the dentist. How do you feel? If your feelings about school are negative, in thirteen, or maybe many more years of school, you had thousands of experiences, and not all of them were bad. Many were terrific! In the dozens of times (hopefully) you’ve been to the dentist, not all of them resulted in pain and yet your feelings about it might be fear and dread.

Feelings can become habitual or automatic. One way to disrupt automatic feelings is to purposefully change what you do each day. It is important that you on purpose, in other words, while thinking about it, change your actions. For example, if your morning is shut off the alarm, use the bathroom, brush your teeth, fix the coffee, let the dog out, make the bed (what?), then take a shower, and you do that day after day after day automatically, change it! Get up, make coffee, let the dog out, brush you teeth, etc., purposefully. Think about it!

Here’s the point. If you are with purpose thinking about what you’re doing, your brain and feelings are not left on their own to begin setting you up for the anxiety and depression you might normally feel every day by mid-morning that short circuits your entire day. Do something different! If that doesn’t do it, with every action, think about each element of the action. Think about who ground the coffee, how the coffee pot was made, how hot the water gets, what color of coffee is actually perfect. Think about how toothpaste is made. Think about the person who had to glue all those little bristles in the handle. (Just kidding). Get it? If you’re purposefully thinking about what you’re doing, you are changing the way your brain automatically runs. Don’t leave your brain and emotions to stir up feelings on their own. They will automatically turn to the routes of thinking and feeling that have been there longest and strongest. Change them!

Make your brain and your feelings work for you, not against you.

Hope you have a great day.

Dale Parsons, MA, LPC