They were both standing outside the vehicle in which they were traveling that day as I turned into the parking area at my cousin’s business. There before me was another cousin and her daughter (from another side of my family) traveling through to a destination in central Virginia. They had called the evening before to see if I might be available to go with them as they visited a couple of locations that the elder of the two female cousins (a few years older than I) had known and played in as a child. They settled in my car and as we turned a corner onto the road named after the lake and retreat area once owned by her father, she gasped as she recognized the house in which my grandmother had lived with one of her sons. Memories came rushing back for me as well as she shared loving thoughts of the times she recalled visiting Grandma (her aunt) at that house. Just a short distance down the road she recognized another house where a cousin of hers (my aunt) had lived. A few winding curves as we traveled west led us to the turn onto the road to the small lake and retreat campsite for which the main road had been named. Her daughter, now herself a grandmother, gasped at the enormity of the structure that once housed all the campers (including me on several occasions) many years ago. The elder cousin told of her father’s act of putting it up for auction whereby the Kiwanis Club of the city nearby purchased the property and maintained it for many years. We left there and drove to the farm next to my family farm that her mother and father had owned and that her mother had spent hours of loving care planting and harvesting a garden. Hearing her recollection of the events and experiences at the places that I had experienced differently was pure joy to this now aging possessor of Parkinson’s. Gratitude filled my heart as we hugged goodbye with promises to stay in touch. Full of thankfulness for the special memories elicited from the visit to places and spaces of my youth reminded me that each day is an opportunity to build upon memories yet to be created. May the experiences of today be driven by the vehicle powered with gratitude for yesterday and the joy of possibilities right now!

The yellow finches appeared as bouncing colorful orbs seeking the fresh seed that filled the feeders just a few yards away from the deck. Although hot and humid, the extreme heat was sheltered high above the scattered clouds that moved slowly with the breeze traveling from west to east. The hearty cows about which we were to be learning were grazing steadily on the dark green vegetation that proves to be among the source for the nutrient rich beef. As refreshments were being prepared for the soon to arrive entrepreneurs, this aging and somewhat resigned host to PD engaged full-heartedly in games with his three and four-year-old granddaughters. Giggles, screams, and uncontrollable outbursts of laughter permeated our presence as we cherished these moments of sheer joy. The “joy” is in the ability to engage with the precious girls as they are, where they are and, in the process, imprint a memory of fun time with “Popi”. Soon the hosted group arrived and the opportunity to learn about turning land resources in one of the geographically healthiest regions in the Eastern US into an environmentally and nutritionally healthy product that promises to be self-sustaining got underway. As part of the learning experience, the group got the opportunity to meet the nutrient rich contributors to Middle Border Beef, that give back more to the environment than they take. The experience reminded this PD participant that there are still opportunities for positive change and life enhancements that can flourish with our grateful attention to them. Another window opened to the fresh air of thankfulness in which the richness of opportunity for renewal came flowing through.

The graveled driveway almost glistens as the bright sun shines down on it. The recently mowed grass embracing its length gives a highlight and a look of distinction to the drive leading from the highway to the houses and sheds. In the distance a shadow of dark clouds casts an ominous warning of a possible storm, wind, and rain that may be heading this way. Rather than fret over what may come our way, this possessor of Parkinson’s Disease and its manifest symptoms under moderate control, looks gratefully out upon the bright shining deck and the plants and flowers growing thereon. Captured in the glow of the bright sunshine are the roaming chickens, grazing goats, and fine ripples in the pond as fish nibble at a morsel dropped by a bird flying by. Around the corner, a hungry and determined raven pounds soundly and directly onto a pecan it discovered near the giant tree. The shell of the nut is no match for the strength and stamina of the Raven’s beak as the bird gobbles down the meat of the nut before flying off to its next challenge. Gratitude fills this heart as the vision of beauty and the wonder of nature are manifest even in the shadow of a looming storm. The prognostication for PD is a slow progression of symptoms to a near state of dysfunction, which may lead to any number of secondary challenges. Nearly each of the potential effects has found its way to this walker’s path and has confronted him with the challenge customarily brought. For the weeks, days, and hours lived in the freedom from the dark clouds of this disease, we give thanks and cherish those times with a hefty dose of gratitude. It appears that gratitude is the best medicine to treat the source and symptoms of an otherwise cloudy experience!

The old pecan tree sheds its small green blossom strings as the winds whip by with bursts of energy from the north. Every web a spider has made acts as an unwitting trap for the tree’s rendering, giving warning to this aging possessor of Parkinson’s as to where not to walk lest he be encompassed by the arachnid’s trap. The sky is bright and nearly clear, but the temperature demonstrates a lingering presence of a northern blast as Spring asserts her belated appearance. My preference is a gentle breeze without the presence of flying pecan blossoms and sticky spider webs to avoid while moving awkwardly around the yard by the house. But you see, nature has nothing to do with my preference, but rather follows the prompting of a greater force than the whim of my will. Likewise, I’ve slowly made friends with the fact that being the host to the disease called Parkinson’s has nothing to do with my preferences nor desires. It has blown in to find a place to “act out” its chemically determinant whims. You see, I prefer the absence of pain and the presence of ultimate self-control when moving from one position to another or when walking across the room or out the door. I prefer not having to experience “freezing” moments wherein my body will not move smoothly at my mental (or loud verbal) command. I prefer having a peaceful and restful night’s sleep and to awake to the power of revitalized energy for that day. I also prefer not to experience untoward muscle jerks that accompany those undesired late-night obsessive thoughts of things for which there can be no resolution at that moment. I prefer to not be captive to small chemical substances that must be consumed on a routine basis to lessen the severity of all the things mentioned above that I would prefer not experiencing, plus a few added ones. I am grateful, however, to have the ability to learn how to cope with challenges of nature and disease. What worked yesterday or last week may not work today, but so far, the value of options has shown itself to be available each day. Seeking the place of gratitude for even what appears as the smallest touch of grace that releases one from what was desired and sometimes experienced into the place of what is and could be adapted, fills this heart with hope and assurance that each day, there is a way!

After having “made friends” with some of the untoward side effects of this disease known as Parkinson’s, (or so I thought) I have discovered that there are still challenges that rumble around the edges of irrationality and require a more conscious effort to “put in its place” than I had been exerting. The belief that a night of seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep was within the realm of possibility has been dashed after several years of “now you sleep and now you don’t”. This morning, after responding to nature’s call, I grunted my way back under the covers to find a resting place. An itch on my back required a scratch. Then, a pressure point pain in my hip required an adjustment. And then, my mind went on its obsessive task of reconstructing the roof of the lean-to shed attached to the old tobacco barn that has slowly been giving way, but nearly collapsed with the last snow fall. Rationality came to visit as I told myself there would be no way to resolve that issue at this time in the middle of the night. This dopamine deprived brain of mine would not embrace the rational thought. I recalled those for whom I had been offering prayers for their healing and or comfort and began prayerful thoughts. The barn shed popped up in my mind again as though a gladiator had returned with sword in hand, flinging the picture of the bent roof directly in my face, shouting “take that”. With a sigh of resignation, I pulled the covers back, slipped on my pajama bottom and my slippers and found my glasses placed gently on the side table just a few hours before. The light from the full moon of that evening was shining through the translucent blinds, so I did not need to flip the switch for full lighting that I feared would lift me to a height of full awareness. After a short journey to the den and securing a comfortable position in the recliner, the handy electronic device used as calendar, telephone, alarm clock, Biblical reference, internet search vehicle was unlocked with my thumbprint and I zoomed into the wonderland of messages and information. A few hours later, I woke to the light of a rising sun, the blank screen of the hand held device and a sense of gratitude for having gained a few more hours of sleep. With a freshly brewed cup of coffee in hand and the day’s designated reading and calendar before me, I gave thanks for the time of deep sleep that had renewed my awareness and energy level, if even slightly. Expressing gratitude for having access to mind numbing distractions from one of the several reconstructive projects, brought with it a sense of peace from which the day’s agenda could emerge. A grateful mind is the engine that propels a thriving heart!

Shade tree warmth followed by flurries of snow; a white glistening frost chased away by a nearly hot bright sunny day, and one has just a glimpse of the frantic weather changes in North Carolina’s Piedmont Region in early spring. The free-range hens are busy scratching at every loose patch of soil in search of the nutritious morsel that can be loosened therein and the cows are constantly nibbling away at the rich green vegetation wherein the previous month’s relentless rain and the current longer hours of sunlight combine to ignite fresh growth. Change, growth and challenge seem to be some active ingredients in the formula for new and enriched life this spring. In similar manner, this possessor of Parkinson’s experiences an emergence of spring in virtually every season of the year. New symptoms tend to flare up as though out of nowhere. Old dissipated symptoms emerge anew as a reminder that they are still alive and well. On rare occasions, a burst of energy will emerge bringing back memories of a state of experience seemingly long, long ago. Complaining does no good, but this unwilling host acknowledges the irritating inhabitant and unwelcomed guest so that when, by the grace his divine crafter, these trolls should be discarded or brought under control, he may, with an ever-grateful heart, give thanks for a state of greater peace. Exercise, dosing of a foreign neurotransmitter, and commitment to the task of good nutrition when combined with acknowledgement and expression of the gratitude possessed for another breath, give fuel to a thriving heart! Until there is a path to a cure, the journey we take is one filled with new challenges, relief, intensity, and welcomed moments of peace, all through which a heart fueled with gratitude thrives beyond the one that struggles just to survive. May gratitude fuel your journey with a thriving heart!

Bright and crisp was the sun that shone after several days of cold and often freezing rain. I gathered my keys, my cell phone and my wallet as I headed toward the slightly muddied truck for a short run to secure some groceries for the next few meals. The cows were chomping away at the newly sprouted grass and early clover as I drove the pot hole spotted driveway toward the once quiet country road from the family farm to the bustling city. The cows seemed to glow in the bright sunshine with which we were being blessed. I turned onto the well maintained and sturdy country road toward my city destination. A bright shine in the distance by the edge of the road caught my attention. As I got closer, the black garbage bag overflowing with pinkish substances became more evident. Then, I saw the Styrofoam cup, and a few feet away two soda cans on the right side of the road. A short distance further my eyes were met with more strewn cups of Styrofoam, translucent plastic and what looked like a bed cushion soaking up the abundance of water left by the multiple days of rain that came before. Now my attention had been drawn from the blessing of the bright sunshine illuminating the fields and woods along the roadway to the plethora of cast away cups, cans, and plastic bags lining the sides of the road. It seemed the distractors were strewn every twenty to thirty feet, on ether side of the road. I remembered that in late Autumn, “road crews” were busy along the side of the road collecting trash and garbage that had been strewn haphazardly during the summer as well. Now having seen the accumulation of discarded objects along the way, I found it harder to refocus my attention upon the blessing of the bright sunshine. PD has a way of sneaking its “trash” in the form of stiffness and rigidity in the way of an otherwise routine, but painless day. Likewise, I find it necessary to re-focus my thoughts on the temporary increase in dosage of dopamine assistance to help “clean up” the distraction of movement from the otherwise bright and cheerful day. Both the clutter of symptoms and the collection of rudely discarded cast away objects requires an intentional focus to maneuver past. With whispers of gratitude and the faith to move beyond the bits of a cluttered day the bright light of sunshine illuminates another thanks filled morning!

I sat in the car stunned by what I had just heard. I had answered a few questions regarding movement and had walked the hallway as instructed. The visit to the Neurologist was intended to gain understanding as to why I was limping on my right side and finding my right hand a bit stiff. “You have Parkinson’s disease,” he said. I was stunned. I knew about Parkinson’s from the work I had done in the Pharmaceutical business. I had missed my symptoms entirely. As I sat there in my car, thinking, my mind went diving to its lowest depths. The New Year of 2007 would arrive in just a few days and I had plans for bright new beginnings; not a deteriorating disease that would ultimately end in death (my thinking, not a prognosis). I called my daughter and told her the diagnosis and said: “now I know how I’ll die.” (Not a loving way to share with her.) I sat there weeping my own demise and the future of miserable challenges I would face. Suddenly, I recalled the statement that “fortune telling is not one of the Spiritual gifts.” I thanked God out loud for reminding me that I wasn’t the beginning and the ending (alpha and omega) of my story. Just uttering those words of gratitude opened then a new vista; a new vision of possibilities that I had not previously embraced. Still heavy with grief and sadness, I started the engine and pulled from the parking lot onto the street back home. I didn’t know the future, but I did believe that the God who had made me and had saved me for eternity was the same God who was going to be with me every day going forward. That one seed of gratitude, I discovered, blossomed into moments of hope as I navigated to streets to my home. The thoughts sustained me until the next challenge I would face emerged from my storehouse of potential negativity. I learned and am still learning that the seeds of gratitude yield a harvest of hope even in the depths of a storm!

Grateful to have returned home after a peaceful and inspiring cruise, the luggage was placed just inside the door. It was already dark, and we had stopped for some southern barbeque on the way home from the airport. It had been a long day of “hurry up and wait” as we had progressed from the ship to the airport, then through security and finally to the plane for which we had been waiting quite some time. The arrival back to the cold weather and the crisp darkness set our heads to the planning that was needed for the next day. We were scheduled for early morning duty at church to prepare breakfast for those in need and counting on the warmth of the food and surroundings. Secure in the warmth of the bed, the night seemed to have flown away as the lights flickered, and the printer in the office attempted a reset. Suddenly, darkness prevailed as ice and snow had covered the ground. It seemed doubtful that we would be able to navigate the roads and streets for breakfast preparation later that morning. The power was out. Without power, we had no resource for heat other than the cast iron stove occupying a space where dust collected routinely. Igniting the fire and feeling the warmth of the flames burning steadily in the old stove gave us pause to express our gratitude for resource we had not intended to use. Roads were impassable and a journey anywhere seemed unlikely. For three days were navigated the path of absence of electrical power and recalled how utterly “normal” that would have been in the times of my father and mother’s early years here at the farm. A stronger appreciation for their perseverance and dedication to living the country life was embraced. As the cold got colder, the congestion from what appeared to be an infection acquired while jam packed in a small commuter plane from Fort Lauderdale, to Raleigh, began to take its hold. Fever, chills, a cold house and huddling in a small room for temporary heat soon evolved as three days later the power returned and some sunshine shone on the faces of congested and coughing participants in a slow but steady recovery. Every glimmer of the shining sun reminded us that Warmth and light are best embraced with a heart of gratitude.

Frost is glistening on the grassy meadow as the ravens caw away at their morning ritual. The house is warm as the furnace blows the heated air from the vents. This day, dubbed Christmas hundreds of years ago has turned its eye upon us here in the southeast, prompting multitudes of celebrations from household to household. Some are flinging wrapping paper, others are testing out new bikes in the driveway, while some others are watching in wonder at how the families have grown. The so called “social” media has borne witness to others who complain of losses and the burdens of what has been and what is yet to come (sorrowfully). As this reluctant host to the ailment dubbed Parkinson’s Disease ponders his being, he can’t help but begin to unwrap the gifts, blessings, and or opportunities for giving thanks that flood his dopa-deprived mind! The blessing of family nearby that shares the victories of challenges nearly every day. The comfort of an engulfing and worn recliner whose seat renders reflection of the one to whom its embrace has molded. A warm and constantly shedding canine who has no clue that she is over seventy pounds as she climbs sometimes not so gracefully into the lap of one that she treats as part of her pack. The buzzing sounds of sleeping family for whose presence we are constantly raising praise. As each layer of the blessing for which we are grateful is gently uncovered, we are lifted to a higher place than the challenge of physical “limits” has gripped. Grace (unmerited favor) has been bountiful and its wonder is experienced in its truest form as we lift thanks to the One who is the giver and the gift. Merry Christmas!

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