When she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a dozen years ago, Beth Parsons didn't waste time wondering, "Why me?"
Instead, she asked God, "What do you want me to learn from this? What do you want me to do with this?"
Now, she thinks she has found the answer. And it can be summed up in her CD of healing music and her book of parenting advice.
The extreme fatigue from MS meant she couldn't work full time anymore. She had to leave her 30-year career in special education, 10 years teaching in the Muscogee County School District and 20 years directing the Achievement Academy.
But she has remained active in the community, working part time for a psychologist, tutoring children and volunteering for Columbus Regional Health. She and her husband, Charlie, also play in several musical groups and enjoy traveling and visiting their children and grandchildren.
Parsons, 61, has played the flute since she was 9. The progression of her MS has limited the range of motion in her right arm. She can't lift it high enough to be in proper flute-playing position. But she still plays flute, thanks to the private donations that helped her buy a $5,000 flute, specially adapted so she can hold it in front of her, like a clarinet.
She pays that gift forward by playing flute in a the Healing Notes program. Local musicians volunteer their time to perform in the lobby of two Columbus Regional Health facilities, Midtown Medical Center and the John B. Amos Cancer Center.
Power of music
Parsons witnessed the power of her music when Jane Duncan came to the medical center to visit her husband, Doug. Jane thought a CD was playing the beautiful music in the lobby until she recognized Parsons as the woman who plays flute at St. Luke United Methodist Church. Jane asked Parsons to come with her to Doug's hospital room, where he was in critical condition.
"He was in and out of consciousness," Jane said, "but he did hear the music."
Indeed, after Parsons played for Doug a few more times that week, he recovered enough to be transferred to Regional Rehabilitation Hospital, where Parsons played some more for him. Now, Doug is well enough to be home and recall the flute and the angel who played for him.
"Those days are kind of vague," said Doug, 82, "but I do remember the beautiful music. It just made me feel good."
Jane added, "I don't want it to sound like it was a big-time miracle kind of healing, but it was very comforting. She was so gracious to do that. I think it was just as much a healing thing for our family as for him."
Producing a CD
The Duncans shared their story with the Rev. Robert Beckham, senior minister at St. Luke, who encouraged Parsons to record her music. That idea has turned into the Columbus Regional Auxiliary's production of "Just Breathe: Soothing Southern Hymns." St. Luke performers Doyle Register (tenor) and Aesook Lim (piano) accompanied Parsons on the CD. Justin Belew was the engineer and provided additional instrumentation. Pat Patten mastered the recording.
Parsons gave the Duncans the first copy of the CD.
"If it hadn't been for them," she said, "this never would have happened.
"It means a lot to me that the music has that kind of power and that, when people hear the music, it can have that kind of effect on their wellbeing and their healing and their state of mind. I don't personally take any credit for that, because God gave me this gift to use."
The Rev. Cindy Cox Garrard, minister of programs at St. Luke United Methodist Church, praised Parsons for not letting her MS define her. She invoked a teaching from Catholic priest and spirituality author Henri Nouwen when he said, "We are supposed to use our woundedness to heal other people."
Years in the making
When the CD came out late last year, Parsons already was published via a different genre. She wrote "The Parent Book" in 2012, but it was years in the making.
One day, her three preschool children -- twin daughters Libby and Jennifer and son Zack -- asked something like, "Why do we have to do this?" too many times, and exasperation became inspiration when Parsons blurted, "Because it's in 'The Parent Book.'"
There wasn't such a book, at least not yet, but her answer was good enough to solve the crisis at hand. Thus started her "one bright idea that kept me sane" and a family tradition that turned into 'The Parent Book' for real.
"I told them that I was given a Parent Book when they were born and the book was my manual for raising them," Parsons explained. "It had all the rules in it, and if they ever questioned my judgment or whatever I had said to do, rather than say 'because I said so,' I would say, 'because it's in The Parent Book.'"
When her children grew wiser and asked to see this secret text, Parsons would reply, "It's for parents only, and when you get to be a parent, you will get one of your own."
When her children became teenagers, Parsons shifted gears.
"They were of course beyond believing in the parent book," she said, "but I would still use it by saying, 'This is something that's not covered in 'The Parent Book,' so I need to go and think about it.' So I could still use the tool but in a different way."
Putting it in print
Parsons put her parenting tips into book form when she became a grandparent five years ago.
"I sat down and just started remembering stories of their childhood, little tidbits and anecdotes," she said. "Initially, I wrote a parent book for each of the children and gave it to them for Christmas. It was individual to them, things that occurred in their own lives."
Word spread about those gifts, and several folks encouraged Parsons to write "The Parent Book" for everyone. Garrard especially prodded Parsons to get her book published. Her endorsement is on the back cover: "This book is not meant to be read and shelved. It is meant to be digested, discussed, and practiced. Ideal for small groups of parents, it is terrific guidance for any mother or father or educator who wants an ally in the room as they attempt the most important job God gives us: that of raising the next generation. How do I know that's true? I read it in 'The Parent Book.'"
Parsons noted her book doesn't contain any advice "supported by some big research firm. These are just my ideas."
But an expert did send her affirmation in a comment on her website. Santo Triolo, the clinical psychologist for the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Division of the Department of Health in Maui County, Hawaii, wrote that Parsons' book "presents very practical activities to parenting problems that are easy to understand and even easier to try. Also, it is a fun read. I like the style of getting to the point quickly and providing answers just as quickly. I plan to pass this along to other counselors and agencies working with families."
Self-published through Brentwood Christian Press of Columbus, the 72-page paperback comprises two dozen tips along with stories from her parenting journey and the lessons she learned from them.
For example, Parsons advises parents to follow through on their threats. Libby was in kindergarten the day she discovered Parsons heeded this principle.
Libby had been having trouble being ready on time to leave for school in the morning. One evening, Parsons told Libby they would leave the house at 7:30 a.m., even if she were in her pajamas.
"The next morning, she just piddled around," Parsons said. "When it was time to leave, I put her in the car and she had on her bedroom shoes and her hair had not been combed. I called her teacher to be sure that she understood I wasn't just being a bad mother, and her teacher was very supportive. She learned a lesson: Mom means what she says. The other two kids saw it, and they learned, too. None of them were ever late again when it was time to leave the house."