We were sailing northeast on the Saint Lawrence Seaway. The water was calm as the northern glow of the sun glistened off the tiny waves as the ship made its way to our next destination in Nova Scotia. Just the evening before, the blowing rain and the rocking ship, testing what seemed to be every crack and crevice in the otherwise comfortable cabin, had awakened me with its annoying and irritating sounds. An adjustment from one side to another with pillows grasped firmly between two arms, a sleepy head and comfortable sheets, set the stage for my return to dream land and the renewal that comes therefrom. As I sat there in the morning looking gratefully at the glistening water of the Seaway, thoughts of the growing movement challenges I faced daily on the cruise came to mind. I was using my leg brace just about every day as it seemed to assist me moving more steadily down the hallways and passageways of the ship. The cane also had become an almost constant daily companion on which I leaned to maintain balance with my sometimes-hobbling maneuvers and efforts to move out of the way of more agile fellow travelers prancing much faster than I from behind. As my thoughts projected into a future debilitated state I could sense the anxiety building in my chest. Glancing again at the glistening sunshine on the then calm waters and thanking my Creator for the beauty I was beholding, I “snapped” back from a world of prophesying (fortunetelling) to one of reality of the moment. That reality settled me calmly in the presence of the beauty surrounding me, the abilities to recognize and appreciate that beauty, and the opportunity to glow in the joy of the moment. Gratitude was the engine that enabled movement from despair back to serenity in the moment. A handful of thankfulness is so much lighter to carry than a pocket full of fear! May your engine be revved up with gratitude today!

The torrent of rain and flashes of wind had passed, and we were left with the fortunate task of simply mowing the grass that had been amply watered. Florence had devastated sections of the coastal plain and flooded the sandhills of North Carolina and South Carolina and was then on her way to New England. This reluctant host to shakes and tremors that result from the disease called Parkinson’s had reacted to the weather in ways that exacerbated the already unwelcomed symptoms. Anxiety was invading this host and he was feeding it fears of trees falling, of devastating rains and flooding that would cause extensive damage that would need repair. This anxiety was building without its host’s conscious awareness. Determined to be productive, even in the face of physical challenges and liberal “fortune telling” (feeding anxiety with fears of future), the lawn mower was filled with fuel and mounted for a productive afternoon of grass cutting. After navigating the edges of the driveway, this eager septuagenarian turned to tackle the side of the county road. Anxiety built as fears of being rammed by a passing car or slipping too quickly into the ditch beside the road swept over me. Suddenly, I heard myself saying: “God, keep me safe on this road; watch for the car that may come my way.” What hit me then was not a vehicle or a fall into the ditch. It was a stark awareness that I had just approached the Creator of the universe and grantor of eternal grace as though He were my personal body guard and goffer. Had the mower not been so loud I might have been able to hear myself as I shouted, “forgive me.” My prayer then turned to expressions of gratitude for the eternal grace and mercy that has filled so much of my life. My request then became one for wisdom and good judgement. As the mower and I continued over tenuous paths, so did my thoughts continue focus on the multitude of things for which I am ever so thankful. I reminded myself that “fortune telling” (the substance of fear and anxiety) is not among the spiritual gifts we are promised. Grass is cut, shakes are chemically under control, and my heart and mind are again focused on gratitude for the grace and mercy that each of us is afforded by our loving God. May gratitude win the race against fear and anxiety!

The date indicates that Summer should be near its close. The temperature and humidity indicate otherwise. Placing the tarp over the passenger seat of the truck in preparation for Gracie’s transport to the groomer left this PD hosting Boomer with a sticky neck, forehead and overall overheated body. Gracie had already left about three of herself lying all over the floor of the house as she shed her golden hair with little effort and spread it around generously even on the mantle after rolling on the floor and then shaking herself vigorously. Her majesty is not accustomed to walking leashed, since the farm yard is her playground and she never wanders far from the comfort of her shelter. A walk to the groomer, however, is fraught with commands to slow down, as my arm is outstretched, and my shuffling feet are forced to hobble haphazardly forward. The two-hour duration of her nose to tail-tip grooming procedure left me with time to try some shopping and a leisurely lunch at one of my favorite eateries. Even with the full dose of dopamine replenishment in place, these feet attached to these aging legs shuffled ever so slowly to stroll through a couple of nearby stores. Lunch was delicious, but the task of shuffling to order and then taking a seat for its delivery left me challenging my thinking about “eating out” while the pooch was prepped. Soon the text came that Gracie was groomed and ready for her departure back to the home she so dearly loves sharing her fur within. A groomed and less-haired dog prompted the thought that the few days of shedding deposits occupying the floors would best be hosted in the trash by way of the vacuum cleaner. Emptying the canister numerous times amid raging resistance from a body hosting on what has become known as an “off day,” reminded me that life is NOT like it used to be. This disease is real and its manifestations can be at times daunting. The plans I had for the rest of the day and evening were soon “tabled” for a time of relative quiet and intended relaxation to allow the pain and stiffness to subside. This prideful participant in the sometimes-painful Parkinson’s Disease process is frequently faced with what sometimes appears to be the choice between “giving up” or “sucking up” in the throughs of disease symptomology. I have discovered, however, that there is yet another response that serves this host better. That is the act of “offering up” with a grateful heart those expressions of thankfulness for so many things that bring us through challenges. The list would fill a lifetime! A grateful heart is a thriving one!

As the sun rises over the pond and pasture, a somewhat dense fog billows just above the pond’s surface. The dew on the grass glistens as it reflects the light of the morning sun. This reluctant host to PD glances at family photographs, framed and positioned on the wall and shelves in a way to be noticed. The paper upon which the photographs are printed has no intrinsic value outside of simple carbon amalgam upon which any ink form or other element might be placed. But these photographs contain images of loved ones. Children from years ago; grandchildren from months ago remind this aging boomer of precious moments shared with those for whom no word beyond LOVE can capture. Beyond the carbon images, through the eyes of this observer and the recollecting brain matter processing the visual image into the context in which the image was captured, makes that image come alive as a person, an experience, a moment of joy or a series of events that contributed to the imprinting of a moment in time. Photographs are just pieces of paper with imprinted images of persons, places, or things. In the mind of a familiar beholder, however, they are transformed into memories and “feelings” of experiences and persons that arouse those feelings and emotions. Gratitude fills the heart of this observer as he is prompted to recall the experience at the beach, the birthday celebration of years ago, or the precious little girl that has grown to be a strong and loving woman. There is no intrinsic value in the carbon image captured in the photograph, but there is unlimited value in what the image means to the beholder who has lived and loved in the presence of that captured memory. May your memory be filled with the images that show the value of relationship!

 

Over a hundred acres surround the old farm house that my father and mother built about fifteen years after their purchase of the acreage at the time of what was termed the great depression. As a small child I roamed the fields, hills, and forest with bare feet and shorts, with no fear of predators. I remember my mother instructing me to stay in site of the house, but I interpreted to my own satisfaction any of the structures that may be occupied by tenants or sharecroppers to be “the house” to which the motherly instruction would apply. We had one milk cow, one horse, two mules, a hefty flock of chickens, one hog (most of the time) and lots of plows, wagons, and in later years a hefty tractor to harvest hay and give the mules a run for their money. All of those are long gone except for their memory in this aging possessor of PD. Returning to the farm after years away has been a blessing that has filled this heart with gratitude. Memories have been flowing back recently as we entertain and begin an action plan to revitalize the old farm as a host to a unique breed of beef cattle. The old pastureland has long ago decayed and slipped away to rust and rot, but new fences will soon go up as the new plan and lively stock begin to occupy the space of open fields and grasses. Children and grandchildren will have the opportunity to “tend” to the farm in ways never imagined by my parents and ancestors. The wisdom of choices will be afforded those of emerging generations and the heart and mind of this grandpa, once the child in awe of the farm, will continue to be filled with the peace of gratitude, the thanks for which may endure far beyond this memory!

As the sun sparkled brightly in the western sky, we gathered for a refreshing time of fellowship at the old farmhouse. Friends and relatives from ages 90+ to just six weeks old had come together to celebrate the joy of relationship in the presence of a loving God. The toddlers were sharing the battery powered little car as best they could while the pre-teen and his grandfather baited hooks for a size worthy catch from the pond. The sturdy four-wheeler provided enjoyment for several as they ventured to remote places of the farm before gathering back to the deck overlooking the wonders that nature has provided. The grill was smoking hot as burgers and hot dogs were placed thereupon to be seared to delicious perfection for all who were to partake. Chatter and laughter was shared as we all filled our plates with tidbits of contributions from many. Sharing stories, memories, loving thoughts and even concerns consumed our time as mouths consumed the morsels placed before them. Topics for our future gatherings in the late summer were pondered and one chosen as we cleared our plates and those traveling to their homes prepared for departure. A heart filled with gratitude for the joy of knowing and sharing with friends and relatives began to silently whisper words of thankfulness for another day experiencing family and friends. A foundation of thankfulness is the solid rock upon which this thriving heart if built.

The breeze beneath the old pecan tree was blowing from the west and feeling like someone opened a sauna door. Just three days from the official declaration of Summer and the temperature and humidity combined was breathtaking. Just a swift visit to the garden to gather a few cucumbers rendered this septuagenarian worthy of a visit to the clothes dryer for a fresh pair of shorts and a shirt. As the recliner in the air-conditioned den embraced this somewhat stiff and slow-moving host to Parkinson’s, I had a flashback to days gone by when as just a young boy I sat in this same room in the middle of summer trying to cool down from the swelter outside with the assistance of only an electric fan blowing the semi fresh air drifting through the open windows. During that time, summer on the farm was fraught with constant daily chores interspersed with an early afternoon respite (and nap, if one could endure the heat while sleeping) from the burning heat and sun outside. Perspiration was one’s companion, but it never seemed to be a deterrent to the ever-eager activities of the then young and restless farm boy. Clad only in shorts, without shirt or shoes, this browned and secure youngster roamed the fields, pasture, and woodlands finding arrowheads, crayfish, terrapins (box turtles) and an occasional salamander.  Many years have passed since then and this blessed adventure called life has taken me around the world to places I only dreamed about in the days of my youth (and many I never knew existed). The joy of the childhood memories is enhanced as I look thankfully upon the walls wherein those memories were made and offer up my heartfelt gratitude for the young life experience as a farm boy. The barefooted youngster has become a want to be secure footed oldster living in the air-conditioned abode from which it all began, filled with a heart of gratitude for not only this place, but also the gift of others with whom I share the richness of this humble place called home!

The ominous black clouds roared their way toward us from the storm trodden west bringing with them the flood inducing downpours that clogged the streams and river, engulfing all within its flowing path. Otherwise stated; The skies darkened as the predicted storm passed through, relieving itself of the burden of moisture it had gathered along the way and filling willing sanctuaries to overflowing as they sought to accommodate the overabundant gift from above. Pausing to reflect upon the two statements it becomes apparent (to me) that the second version of the event leaves one’s interpretation of the same event less ominous and threatening than the first. Words make a difference in the way we view our world and experiences. Recently, I’ve been viewing several different websites and “social media” resources that address issues of Parkinson’s Disease. Whereas some report factual research findings and or clinical observations, others convey a plethora of negatively interpreted experiences of patient observation or caregiver reports that paint a dark and ominous portrait of caring for those who do or of those who live with Parkinson’s. PD is not a pleasant dis-ease! It is a mal-function of the pyramidal cells of the substantia nigra, rendering a less than adequate supply of the neurotransmitter dopamine required for what we interpret as “normal” movement and support of certain “moods” we also interpret as being normal. (Some would argue it is much more, but this is quite enough for the conversation here engaged.) As one who is “host” (not victim) to this “challenge” (not tragedy), I have discovered that the way I frame my thoughts makes a great deal of difference in how I experience and live with/through the challenges of this disease. There is no proven cure for PD. There is no known prevention for PD. There are numerous treatments for PD, all of which carry the risk of their own somewhat challenging and sometimes debilitating side effects aside from the side effects that treat the disease. Living with PD and addressing the issues that become challenging in its presence grows to be a full-time occupation for the host and often puts strain on the person(s) who see their way clear to be a helper. The occupation becomes a more fulfilling calling in the presence of gratitude for the wherewithal to address and frame every precious moment of life, granted by the very Giver of life. Words matter! And, they make a difference is life’s experience!

This swinging weather, from hot to high winds to freezing cold, in what would otherwise be described as springtime, leaves this possessor of PD grappling for words to express this body’s not so thrilled desire to be let loose! Stiffness, rigidity, slowness and poignant fatigue at unexpected moments set’s this old one toward a shuffle and a shake. An intentional “stride” forward in an exaggerated but correct walk from front door to back get’s this old mind whirling. Suddenly, I’m talking to Miss Gracie, the Golden, as though she’s understanding every utterance out of my mouth. Suddenly, I crack myself up with laughter at the pun just spewed from my lips. Encouraged by my own enjoyment, I continue full force in “thinking out loud.” Amazed at what flips from my lips as it has bounced through my brain, I embrace my moment with awe and laughter. It’s not that I think my humor is so great (although I am my greatest comic fan), it is rather with wonder and gratitude that I embrace this time alone during my day, giving thanks for what I recognize as sanity (at least my version), enthusiasm at life and a mixture of occasional sadness at the seemingly short duration of it all. Lest one think this PD affected mind is all possessed with crazed humor, I attest that from these lips unbridled comes words of sorrow as moments are recalled of times past where I regret not having let pass through these lips words of love and encouragement to those who meant so much and who have now no chance to respond. Laughter, love, loss, happiness, joy, grief, sadness, contentment, and gratitude for the opportunity to experience each of these life expressions now lifts this humble heart to a place where words spoken or embraced are understood and the Divine guide on this journey has won the race!

The bright and warming sunshine brings with it memories of times past when light and the rising temperatures of the day presented an invitation to discard the shoes and jump into the summer shorts. Now not as spry as the memories of past, energy is expended on gratitude for the blessings that are and have been along this journey called life. News clips of the devastation of human life in Syria brings with it prompted contemplation as to why humans do these atrocious things to other humans. We human species seem to be our own worst enemies. Yet, humans can also be providers, and sustainers of love and peace while nurturing good will and a message of hope and eternal grace in the place of hatred and hostility. As I contemplate the condition of the human state of mind that chooses not to see value and virtual sacredness in the life of diverse others, I give thanks for the restoration that has already begun in the lives of those who believe and act out of the instruction to place the Creator first by regarding others and self with the same value. I give thanks for healing, where hurt has been shoveled out. I am grateful for the desire to understand that supersedes the perceived need to be understood. In today’s sunlight, may this awareness of gratitude be sustaining through the moments and even days of darkness that are a part of the renewing opportunity for a life well-paced in a place called grace.

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