When Thomas Paine spoke of soul-trying times for men at the time of our country’s birth, he couldn’t have realized that his words would have broader implications today.

His broadside rhetoric of 1776, if applied currently, soul-trying times would include women, as well as a plethora of other perplexing issues. No doubt he’d be spending a great deal of time scratching his head, or wig, whichever his lot.

And soul-trying times today often pop up at the most inopportune times, even on weekends, the very time that some of us give our soul-trying defense mechanisms a two-day pass…

The Rev. Lynda Dinsdale, a minister at New Braunfels Presbyterian Church, is in total agreement.

She thought herself to be reasonably prepared to lead holiday services recently, but her “slip ’twixt cup and lip” came in the early going of the “children’s sermon.”

Dinsdale invited the young disciples to join her on the chancel. This day, she figured the 15 or so youngsters, mostly pre-schoolers, would provide rapt attention. After all, she’d made a couple of “Googling” swipes at “Mayflower,” and had a photo of the pilgrim’s ship to pass around. She thought maybe they’d be dazzled by her findings. But she was wrong…

In just a few seconds, she realized the “hot buttons” of the pre-schoolers were in the upright and locked positions. Why, they’d been studying about the pilgrims, the Mayflower and assorted Thanksgiving topics for several days in nursery school.

Her “sermonette” was immediately riddled by corrections. Dinsdale’s reference to the “104 Pilgrims” didn’t float. “It was 102,” a kid corrected, and another at the back of the bunch added, “and two dogs.”

“That’s what I meant,” she waffled. “It was 104 if you count the two dogs…”

Subsequent sentences suffered the same fate. She spoke of the two-month voyage that one child insisted was “66 days.” As to the 52 who died, another alert youngster clarified: “But that was during the winter after they got off the boat.” Yet another wanted to make sure the minister was aware that “there were girl pilgrims, too.”

Then one of the tikes contributed: “Did you know Thanksgiving is my mom’s birthday?”

This was segue enough for the reverend. “Let us pray, children,” she said. Mostly, she prayed that the remainder of the service would go as she had planned. Then she patted their little heads, and they scurried back to their seats…

Speaking of children, they continue to line up, often around corners, waiting their turn to recite their Christmas “wish list” to Santa Claus.

And weird things are happening.

One woman spread Saran Wrap across Old Saint Nick’s lap before her little darling climbed up. “One just can’t be too careful,” she explained. “You never know who’s been sitting there…”

One store, in my judgment, may be “penny-wise” in political correctness, but “pound foolish” in customer relations.

Adjacent to the gingerbread house, near the display of a mechanical Mrs. Claus pouring hot spiced tea for the Christmas elves, a large sign welcomes visitors. It is a full 30 yards from the jolly old man’s rocking chair. It lists visitation rules and price lists for photographs. The final statement comes across as stark, and maybe as, uh, an outright threat:


In the spirit of the season, may we give thanks for all those around us who serve, often in the dead of night, and/or weekends, on both these and foreign shores.

I am mindful this day of hospice volunteers who extend comfort and care to patients who can be served as well, and sometimes better, at home, where most would rather be. It is noteworthy that recent findings confirm that hospice program enrollees are living an average of 29 days longer than non-hospice participants.

Say “thanks” in all the ways you know how to those who serve here and there — in this season and beyond…

Don Newbury is a speaker and author whose weekly column appears in 125 newspapers in six states. He welcomes comments and inquiries. Call him at (817) 447-3872, or send e-mail to newbury@speakerdoc.com His Web site is www.speakerdoc.com.