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

Will Covid-19 Ever End?

I read a book a while ago (I’ve read a ton of books in the last couple of years), and there were several paragraphs that have stayed with me. Especially now.

The story was fiction, but the implications are startling. The section that keeps rolling over in my mind concerned what the author called, “the economics of fear.” He wrote that the media, by the design of some higher and secreted power controls the population, and therefore, the economy, by the words they continually use. The narrative changes as time passes and new descriptors are used because the public grows accustomed to the old ones.

New words selected bring another wave of fear so the public will once again hang on every word the media says, even though they keep saying the same things over, and over, and over again. Network selection doesn’t matter, the words and phrases are interchangeable. The purpose is to corral and herd public feeling and reaction. In this very interesting novel of fiction, it worked.

I haven’t been able to get the author’s words out of my mind. It feels like reality. I don’t want to mention the author or the book title because it’s not my intention to start a discussion about either one. It just struck a chord with me.

I’m sure I am totally wrong. I’m thinking nonsense. Quarantine has left me babbling, unable to make words fit together in any meaningful way. Instead of clouds passing overhead, I’m seeing fluffy forms of catchers squatting behind plates, and outfielders making heroic plays.

It’s fiction we’re being herded. Told what to believe. We’re not really being conditioned and trained. The media hasn’t been informed which words to use. Startling, breaking, unrelenting, endless, broken, terrifying, contagious, rampant, breathless, Covid-19, second wave, third wave, collapse.

Obviously, there is no economy of fear. We know what to believe, we’re not fooled by anything that isn’t true. We don’t react to fear in an unreasonable way.

I really just need to forget about the book I read. It’s fiction. I should spend my time watching news shows so I can stay informed. I’m sure there are enough programs to keep me occupied during all of my waking hours. That would be much more productive than reading. Especially fiction.

I feel better now. Thanks for your help.

Tell Your Children!

Someone said grandchildren are God’s gift for not killing your children.   We did our best with our children, and in spite of our efforts, they still turned out wonderfully.  We are so proud of all of them!  And now, with six grandchildren, the oldest, fifteen, the youngest, under a year, we are enjoying the amazing experience of watching our own children raise children.

This morning we saw an interview with Michelle Obama on one of the morning shows.  Something she said really hit me.  She said she grew up with constant encouragement and was influenced to believe she could become anything she chose.  Reinforcement was constant.  While I know very little about Mrs. Obama apart from being the former First Lady, anyone paying attention can tell the message she received when she was young had a tremendously positive impact on her life.

My own experience was much different.  I did not grow up with that kind of encouragement, or anything close to it.  What I learned was fear and insecurity, which led to a constant sense of anxiety that has lasted throughout my life, to this day.

What I endured back then would be called abuse today.  Psychological, emotional, and physical abuse.  Giving my father the benefit of any doubt, his purpose was to demand obedience.  What he actually did was protect himself from ever being shamed or embarrassed by his children’s behavior.  Never hearing “you can do this,” or, “you can be anything you want to be,” or,  “believe in yourself like I believe in you,” brought crippling results.  Instead of learning what was possible for us, we learned what would happen to us.

My dad lost his own father when he was a young teenager, just when he needed him most.  His father left home and never returned.  As a result, my father became skillful at keeping others from hurting him, especially those in his own family.

One of my earliest memories of my dad was being afraid to stay with him when my mother was leaving the house.  Years later in the 7th grade, I delayed giving my father a report card because I was afraid he would be angry.  When I finally brought it home he laughed and teased as he looked over the report.  I said, “I got this a month ago.  I didn’t bring it home because I was afraid you would be mad.”  He exploded in rage. Removing his belt he screamed, “If you didn’t have a reason to be afraid before, you sure do now!”  He began hitting me with his belt and kicked me in the shin with his “wing-tip” shoe, leaving a big knot on my shin.  “You’ve got a lot of confidence in your dad, don’t you!” he yelled.  I didn’t understand then, and I’m not sure I do now.

In December of 1989, my father died from cancer at age 62.  I never had the privilege of an honest, strong, confident, reciprocal relationship with him.  Were we loved?  Yes.  Did he provide for his family?  Yes.  None of that overcame the fear that reigned in our home.

Now, with adult children and grandchildren of our own, our kids will laugh about the look on my face and the things I said when it was time for discipline.  I love it.  It’s funny and embarrassing to hear them mimick the way I was as they were growing up.

Once when I was going to be away,  I had a serious conversation with my three boys.  I said, “Hey, guys, I want to ask you a question, and I want you to be completely honest.  I won’t be angry no matter what you say.”  Then I asked them, “Are you happy when I’m not here?”  I explained that I was excited when my dad was gone.  The pressure was lifted, it was vacation time while he was gone.  I wanted to know if my boys felt the same way.  I was relieved to hear them say, “No!  We don’t like it when you’re gone.  We miss you, it’s more fun when you’re home.”  I tried not to instill the same fear and doubt I had, in my own children.

Why have I shared all of this?  If you have children, please, please, encourage them!  Praise them!  Tell them they can do anything and become anything they want to be, even if there’s not a chance in the world they can actually do what they’re dreaming.  Who knows?  Can you see the future?

Kids will be kids.  They’re going to upset you, they’re going to make mistakes, maybe big ones.  But don’t ever lose sight of them being YOUR children.  You are shaping them, and they will shape others who will shape others.  That is a huge responsibility!  Speak affirming, not shaming words to them.  Don’t say, “You know what you should have done?”  Tell them they did a great job.  Tell them you believe in them.  Tell them they can, whatever it is.  Say continually, “I am so proud of you!”

The effect of you, their parent, whether you are a single parent, step-parent,  guardian, aunt, uncle, or grandparent, believing in them will last a lifetime!