Grateful! Discovery Prompts Day 30!

Well, I’ve reached the end of the Discover Prompts provided by WordPress. They do this every April, but since I wasn’t blogging like a fiend in April, I started using the prompts thirty days ago. So, does that mean I have nothing else to write about because no one is giving me a topic? Oh, no, my friends. I have sooo much to expound upon in literary prose that I will keep busy for a very long time.

The final prompt is grateful. There are so many things for which to be grateful, it is not difficult to begin. It will actually be difficult to end. Just when I think I’ve exhausted the list, more thoughts arise. So, here goes.

I’m thankful to have a neck. If it weren’t for my neck, my head would be attached directly to my shoulders, making it very difficult to turn when someone calls my name. Obviously, I could turn my whole body around, which I would have to do if I didn’t have a neck, but then I might trip over something that was previously in front of me but is now behind me.

I’m thankful my name is not Sigmund. I have never liked the name Dale, but I dislike the name Sigmund even more. I would have grown up being called Sig, (no one would have ever called me Mund), and that would have been very annoying. I have been called all kinds of things, many of which can’t be listed here. But I would prefer being called Dork, or almost anything else to being called Sigmund.

I’m grateful for knees. Stick figures illustrate how important it is to have knees. We should all be thankful. If it weren’t for knees, our walking would be stilted. Falling would be particularly dangerous and landing on our faces would be more frequent.

I’m thankful for tortilla chips. They are the perfect snack when I want something but I don’t know what. Chocolate? No. Milk? No. Spaghetti? No. Egg Plant? No. Tortilla chips are the go-to every time I just need something to chew. Crunchy.

I’m grateful for doorknobs. I’ve have been locked out of the house, by my own doing, and getting back into the house would be far more difficult if there were no doorknobs.

I’m grateful for paint stir sticks. When I forget to have paint stirred at the store, I have to mix it myself. I would have to use my hand if there were no stir sticks. I take so many things for granted, it’s good to remind myself about all the things I am grateful for.

I’m grate for toothbrush handles. If it weren’t for the handles, I would have to hold the bristles between my fingers. It would be so much more tedious to brush my teeth without a toothbrush handle.

I’m grateful for spoons. I do occasionally eat ice cream with a fork if I’m eating it right out of the carton. My wife prefers that I not do this, but when she’s not around, she doesn’t know. I get our ice cream at night when we’re watching our new Netflix or Amazon Prime series, so she doesn’t see the little fork marks in the ice cream. Ice cream inevitably melts as you’re eating it. So eating it with a fork would be difficult. It would also be hard to put a bite of ice cream in your mouth and take it out while smoothing the top, like everyone does, with a fork. I’m grateful ice cream is the only food we put into our mouths and then take it out.

I’m grateful for plastic milk bottles. Drinking out of a carton with the triangle opening at the top is difficult. Most often the milk pours out the sides and runs down my cheeks and onto my shirt. Drinking out of a plastic milk bottle is much easier. Not that I actually do that anymore.

I’m grateful for toast and frosted mini-wheats. One piece of toast and about ten frosted mini-wheats with a cup of hot tea is an incredible snack late at night while we’re watching TV. Of course I have to give at least one to Maggie as she loves mini-wheats. I usually take out a few extra to share because I’m not will to have less than ten. I try to chew them quietly. They can be noisy if I’m not careful.

Extension cords deserve more gratitude. If it weren’t for extension cords, our walls would be far more crowded with things that have to be plugged in. All of our furniture would have to be the height that anything electric placed on top would have a cord long enough to reach the plug. Electric items would have to take turns because there probably wouldn’t be enough wall plugs for everything.

I’m grateful for radio stations. When I’m turning the dial on the radio trying to find something to listen to, its gratifying to hear plenty of choices vying for attention before I finally decide to listen to Pandora.

I’m definitely grateful for bubble wrap. The joy of sitting and popping the bubbles in bubble wrap is hard to beat.

I’m grateful my childhood dentist was wrong. He said I wouldn’t have any teeth by the time I was sixty. I’m way over sixty and I still have my own teeth. Most of them have been repaired, capped, crowned, drilled, filled, ground and polished, but they’re mine and I’m proud to have them.

I’m grateful for taste, smells, food, drinks, coffee, mochas, water, tea, jokes, tears, yawns, sneezes, kleenex, napkins, egg cartons, Tupperware, refrigerators, ice cream, bread, butter, jam, cheese, frying pans, cinnamon rolls, deep-fried pieces of cinnamon rolls with powdered sugar icing on them, extra powdered sugar icing, sidewalks, tires, trees, flowers, ants, bees, (not wasps), wood, grass, lawnmowers, birds, squirrels, dogs, movies, music, Netflix, computers, iPads, tin cans and string, sticks, dirt, stones, asphalt, highways, dirt roads, pathways, wooden docks, donuts, candy, M&Ms, almonds, Oreos, chocolate chips, Oatmeal, Cocoa-Puffs, gum, turn signals, stop signs, “Signs” the movie, instruments, those who play instruments, teachers, doctors, nurses, neighbors, friends, police officers, store owners, gas stations, jobs, paychecks, careers, laughter, hunger, thirst, fishing poles, bobbers, empty fields, tractors, hay, tomatoes, lettuce, bacon, pepper, avocado, plastic, rubber, glass, blankets, t-shirts, dishwashers, clothes dryers, two-by-fours, nails, glasses, suspenders, pants, hats, and pancakes.

It’s impossible to list all we are grateful for. When we try, it is a powerful reminder.

There is nothing for which I am
more grateful than our family.



Dale Parsons

Discover Prompts Day 12: Feeling Light

One of the suggestions for writing about this Discover Prompt is recalling a time of feeling completely carefree and light. I gave that quite a bit of thought and I really can’t remember the last time I felt completely carefree.

We’re talking about a feeling. Feelings come and go. Who knows how many different feelings we have throughout the day? Feelings are affected by all kinds of things like appetite, weather, people, relationships, finances, caffeine, medications, hammers hitting fingers, entertainment, music, movies, conversations, news, social media, clouds, bills, illness, impressions, perspective, thoughts, possessions, lack of possessions, social conditions, religion, non-religion, education, emotions, bad coffee, good coffee, alcohol, smells, traffic, mechanical problems, temperature, rain, no rain, allergies, colds, flu, disappointments, expectations, hopes, dreams, plans, accomplishments, endings, beginnings, new surroundings, old surroundings, new jobs, old jobs, days off, weekends, Monday mornings, Friday nights, alarm clocks, time clocks, chimes, children, no children, parents, missing parents, driving, walking, thinking, purchasing, losing, acquiring, choosing, clean houses, dirty houses, embarrassment, gloating, plants, blossoms, leaves falling, leaves appearing, snowflakes, rain, water, having a boat, not have a boat, snow storms, snow days, lightning, thunder, ice, stubbing toes, getting lost, lights on, lights off, darkness, fire flies, wasps, mosquitoes, fish, dogs, cats, guinea pigs, ants in the house, spiders, centipedes, chocolate, lack of chocolate, politics, oil changes, car washes, flat tires, motor homes, travel trailers, flying, landing, waiting on a tarmac, trips being canceled, getting fired, getting hired, layoffs, hirebacks, recalls, refunds, overcharges, cold food, cold coffee, cold tea, restaurants closed, pizza, bad pizza, Tweets, posts, stats, likes, dislikes, memes, non-memes, misunderstandings, understanding, Instagrams, Snap-Chats, comprehending, confusing, concealing, revealing, knowing, not knowing, finding, dogs barking, dogs licking, cat tongues, cats purring, water boiling, cold water, clean clothes, body odor, dirty fingernails, and living.

To be totally carefree, one would either have to be an infant, which is not really being carefree but to be unaware of cares, or not be living.

Feeling light, whatever that means, evidently is something different. Someone said that seeking happiness as a goal is a mistake. If feeling light is feeling happy, than great. But happiness comes and goes from one moment to the next, depending on what’s happening around you. Being generally satisfied could be equated with happiness, and if it is, you’ll probably say you are mostly happy, if you are satisfied.

If you are consumed with dissatisfaction, can’t get enough, no matter what you have it’s not enough, then you probably feel like happiness is always just beyond your reach. There is nothing wrong with reaching, striving, working, growing, improving, but not with the price of never feeling a sense of accomplishment where you are right now.

What I am striving for right now, is more coffee.

Discover Prompts Day 10: Orchestrate

I have loved directing choirs for many years. I was in college the first time I directed, and had no idea what I was doing. I sang in choirs for many years so I just did what I saw others do. It worked, and I was hooked.

In three cities where we lived, I orchestrated community choirs to perform benefit concerts to raise money for needy families during the holidays. It was great fun, and since our church was too small to have a choir, it gave me an opportunity to lead a large group of singers.

In the first town, I had no idea whether I could get enough people to join us. I bought an ad space in the local newspaper announcing the choir project and the response was terrific. We worked for a few months on a musical that was popular at the time, and gave two nights of performances. The community attended and the people were very generous. The next year we performed the same musical again, and the great response was repeated.

There is something wonderful about singing with a big group of people. To me, nothing else can match it. Directing a choir like that is an amazing experience.

The second town where we orchestrated a community choir was very small, but once again, the response was amazing. People from many backgrounds joined together, working hard each week to provide a great performance. The crowd was incredible, the singing was powerful. The results were touching, families were helped. The following year, people once again showed how much they cared about their neighbors in need. The third year, my wife and I had the privilege of performing a benefit concert during the holidays. The response from the community was overwhelming.

In the third town, the church where I was the pastor was much larger, so we had a bigger group to start with. Our invitation to the community was received enthusiastically and we built a large choir. This time, we performed a powerful musical of Southern Gospel orchestration, which is my favorite. What a great time we had! We used that same musical at camp meetings during the summer and the crowds loved it.

Perhaps the most challenging project, which brought amazing results, was coordinating a musical performance composed of people from thirty different churches. The most difficult part was that each group of people had to rehearse by themselves until the day of our performance. The musical we performed was “God With Us”, a powerful and moving orchestration by Don Moen. Everyone worked very hard. We had one rehearsal an hour before the performance. I wish I could adequately describe it. Overwhelming. Magical. Powerful. Incredible. It was one great night I will never forget.

Having the opportunity to direct many choirs over the years has been a tremendous gift. The only musical training I have is 9 1/2 years of piano lessons. So, the singers in the choirs I directed were very patient with me because I obviously didn’t know what I was doing. I just loved singing and getting other people to sing seemed easy.

Here is one secret I always shared with my choirs. If you get the beginning, the key changes, and the end right, the crowd will think you’re fantastic. If you make a mistake, as long as you don’t make a face, no one will ever know.

I was talking about music, but that secret seems like a great plan for living.

Staying Sane in Isolation

Everyone likes a little alone-time, at least once in a while, but this is ridiculous. Even for those who are introverts, this command to stay home is a challenge.

If we’re going to stay sane while all this is happening to our country and the world, we have to find ways to break up the weeks, days, and hours. If we don’t, the minutes are going to drag by and misery will be a constant companion.

We may have projects we’ve been wanting to complete, but now that we have extra time, can’t find the motivation to actually do it. So, an answer might be to try something totally out of your normal experience. Are you a dancer? No? Then give it a try. Put some music on, (maybe start with something slow and soft so you don’t break anything, either furniture or bones), and let yourself go. You may create something totally new. If you feel inhibited, even better. Press on! Let your imagination be your partner. You might really surprise yourself.

Are you a builder? No? Then go out in the garage and find some scrap pieces of wood, and build something. Anything! Even if it’s just a frame with four pieces of wood nailed together so it’s square.

Are you a writer? No? Then get busy writing. “What should I write about?” you ask? Anything! Write about how your toothpaste tastes. Write about blades of grass and how you love seeing it beginning to grow in the spring but hate to mow it once it gets tall enough. Write about an ant named Bob. Bob is shorter than the other ants his age because he has a condition that hinders his growth. He also has hair on his head. No ants have hair.

Do you sew? No? Here’s a huge challenge. Find an old shirt or blouse that you’ll never wear again, and carefully cut it apart on the seams. Cut the sleeves off, the buttons, and the collar. Now, put it all back together. If you don’t have a sewing machine, all the better. Find a needle and thread and do it by hand.

Photo by Lum3n on Pexels.com

Do you draw? No? Get a piece of paper and a pencil and start drawing. The challenge is not to say, “That looks stupid.” Just do it. Keep your self-doubt voice quiet. You may discover you’re a natural.

Do you have boxes and boxes of photos? Sort them in some meaningful order. Put all vacation pictures together. Put family reunion pictures together. Or, put photos together by colors people are wearing.

Use your imagination. You can come up with something, a project, a plan, a design, a dream. You might come out of this isolation with a new way of thinking that could really change your life.

Stuff

Thirty-one years in ministry afforded many experiences that were…well, funny, crazy, and some were just stupid.  In our first job, nearly forty-six years ago, we were youth pastors at a small church, two hundred miles south of where we were attending college. We had a small upstairs apartment across the street from the church, which was convenient, until the landlady decided to put all our belongings out on the curb while we were away during the week. She was upset because some of the youth showed up and knocked on their door after they went to bed.

We were on our way back to school late one wintery Sunday night, with our brand new little puppy someone from the church gave us.  In the middle of nowhere, the engine quit and we were stuck, freezing.  A kind state trooper rescued us, returning us all the way to our trailer-park home at the college.  On the way, our puppy threw up on the back seat of the squad car.

Our second position was at a small church in our college town, so, no more four-hour drives after Sunday night services.  Again, I was a youth pastor, but was also the choir director.  Directing choirs was just something I decided I could do.  I never had any musical training other than piano lessons.  I enjoyed directing very much and it came in handy many many times over the years.

One Sunday morning a new young couple visited the church.  I happened to notice the man wore a ring that looked familiar, although, oddly, I didn’t recognize him.  As we became acquainted in the following weeks, conversation finally included asking about his occupation.  “I’m a state trooper,” he said.  Yes.  The same officer who gave us a ride home over a year earlier.  And, yes, he remembered our puppy throwing up in his car.

Being young and eager sometimes combine energy to push common sense into the ditch. A ministry whose big plans and dreams far outweighed resources was looking for young people.  We agreed to join them and moved to northern Illinois. We were told we would receive a certain salary, but after we arrived with our belongings in tow, they told us, “We can’t pay you.”  Rather than running, we stayed.  We told them, “God will take care of us.”  There were only two redeeming factors in our year-long ordeal. Our landlords were a lovely old couple living in the other half of the large old farmhouse which was our home.  They watched over us like parents, and were especially helpful when our daughter was born. Our beautiful little girl was the second blessing.

When we finally left for a real job, the leaders of the “ministry” actually said, “We couldn’t help you because you told us God would take care of you.”  Abuse of employees by those who should know better is far too common in ministry.

We worked for a ministry in Texas the next four years.  We were worship leaders on Sundays, and I was the conference planner and musician for the travelling ministry during the week.  One Sunday as I was singing and playing the piano I happened to notice a large cricket hopping up behind me.  As I continued to play, I waited until just the right moment and stomped the cricket with my right foot, never skipping a beat.  Of course, the whole front row was laughing instead of singing.

There used to be a chorus, “All God’s children love livin’, livin,’ all God’s children love livin’ bread” to the tune of “Mama’s Little Baby Loves Shortnin’ Bread.” One Sunday I was teaching the song to the congregation, but when I started singing, instead of “All of God’s children…” I sang, “Mama’s little baby…”  The pastor cackled and nearly fell out of his chair.

Perhaps the setting for some of the craziest things was the year we travelled across the country on our own.  We preached, played and sang in churches, large and small…some were very small. On one occasion we were invited to California for a series of conferences.  One thing that was always difficult for us was staying in homes rather than having the privacy of a hotel.  We never knew what to expect and sometimes it was anything but comfortable.

One morning, after having arrived at a pastor’s home late the previous night, I walked into the kitchen where our host was cooking.  “I have fried potatoes every morning,” he said. “Want some?  Or maybe some toast?”  I said toast would be fine.  A few minutes later he tossed a piece of toast bouncing and flinging crumbs across the table to me.  No plate, butter, or anything else. “Later,” he said, “we’re going to the grand opening of our new grocery store for lunch.”

At lunch time, we all piled in the car for a short trip to the new grocery store.  I pictured maybe a buffet, or hotdogs, or burgers.  Nope.  We went up and down the aisles for small samples of items the new store was selling.  This story has been told many times.  The pastor and his small family was probably struggling to survive and what they shared with us came at a high price.

We were scheduled to be at a church in another state for four days.  We had been with the pastor and his family before, so we looked forward to seeing them again.  At the end of a long drive, we met the pastor and his wife at a restaurant.  He asked if we would be willing to stay an extra day and do a concert the fifth night.  We were happy to do it, until we arrived where we would be staying.

We walked into the old house and immediately felt uneasy.  There was a young man sitting at the kitchen table studying.  We noticed the coffee maker on the counter had mold growing in it. As the pastor showed us through the home we asked about the owner. “Oh, she died,” he said, “they found her in a coma in the house.”  Ugh!  We asked about the man in the kitchen, “He’ll be staying here with you.”  I told him we weren’t comfortable with that and preferred he not stay.  All I could think about was that we had just agreed to stay an extra day!  We were creeped out.

One time I was playing and a mouse ran out of the piano by my feet.  I guess he didn’t like the music.  In one city I was privileged to play a nine-foot Steinway concert grand piano for a four-day conference.  What a blast!  I also enjoyed playing a Bosendorfer grand piano one time.  I don’t remember if I actually used the extra keys.

For seventeen years we were lead pastors, in three churches.  We continued doing music and directing choirs.  I found the choirs provided relief from the pressures of pastoring. The piano was a constant companion, and at one church I even had the pleasure of choosing a brand new grand piano to be donated to the congregation by a family who lost a loved one.  What a pleasure it was to play that beautiful instrument every Sunday and spent many hours playing during the week.  I hated to leave it behind when we moved.

One Sunday I was about to play a studio piano which is taller than a spinet, shorter than an upright.  I joked with the congregation as I was sitting down but hit my head on the edge of the piano and left a large creased goose-egg on my forhead.  I can’t remember what I played.

One congregation met in a rented hall which had a stage with three steps.  It was time to begin the service but I remembered something I needed at the back of the room. Walking to the edge of the stage, I tripped and rolled down the steps, plowing into the legs of two women sitting on the front row.  As I lay on the floor, trying to decide if I was hurt, a lady leaned over and said, “Pastor, this is my friend, she’s here for the first time today.”  I reached up and shook her hand.  I don’t remember if she ever came back.

On a Wednesday night during the old-fashioned mid-week prayer meeting, I was giving a handout to the attendees and banged my leg on a pew and loudly said, “Ohhh shhhhiiinnnn!”  I’m sure there were several who thought I was going to say something else.

A major leap forward into the 20th century involved replacing the old overhead projector with a very modern digital projector so worship songs could be projected onto a screen.  I used my laptop so I could control the new machine while playing the piano. One thing I forgot to consider was the screen saver on my computer.  After a Sunday morning service a man said to me, “Can I get equal time?” “What are you talking about?” I asked.  “During the morning prayer, ‘Model Railroading Is The Greatest’ was scrolling across the screen.”  Yep, my screensaver.

The all-time clincher happened on Easter Sunday morning, perhaps the most solemn, meaningful, revered, holy day of the entire year.  The “Easter Sunrise Service,” for those who don’t know, means you have a service at the crack of dawn and then eat cold scrambled eggs and toast afterwards.  I was reading the Easter story from the Scriptures, which included the description of Jesus being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. When the soldiers grabbed Jesus, the Apostle Peter took a sword and cut off the ear of a man named Malchus.  Later, as Jesus was being questioned, the disciples stood around a fire with several others, trying to keep warm. I continued reading, “And standing at the fire was a woman, the sister of Malchus, whose Peter was cut off…”  Obviously, it was supposed to be “Malchus, whose ear Peter cut off.”

I really need some more coffee.