The foot and a half of snow brightens up the overcast sky as the temperature rises as predicted. Slush from the melting white covering fills the tire tracks along the driveway. Birds have nearly emptied their feeders and the chickens are scratching away in every patch of exposed earth. The newly acquired cattle are devouring the hay delivered just before the near blizzard. The white covering is slowly making its way down the slope of the roof as internal warmth penetrates through the old insulation to escape into the cold air above. Gracie steps precariously on the nearly ice-covered inches of snow as she seeks that otherwise perfect spot to deposit her well kept bladder and intestinal content. All seems well as this often-unwilling host to PD reflects upon the past few days in the warmth of his sturdy recliner. Just two days ago, attempting to run errands while in town, I pulled up to the gas pump at the discount store used often to replenish the tank. All looked clear except for a few white patches of well compacted snow. Switching off the engine and placing the keys in door holder, I opened the door and stepped out as my feet went flying forward toward the gas pump. Stunned and somewhat numb from the body slam against the floorboard, fear and anger began to raise their heads. As I sought a non-slippery spot to give my feet a grip, I slide deeper toward the pavement. Determined, a foot caught hold of a white snowy spot that had remained rough enough to sustain the feet of an old codger. Moaning and groaning, I managed to get myself to a standing position and proceeded to fill the truck tank with fuel, the intent of the stop in the beginning. Bruised and just a tiny bit sore from the slam against the floorboard of the truck, I finished off the tank holding at least a cup of anger at the ice trap into which I had just stepped and emerged. As I climbed back into the truck, being ever so careful not to step on ice, I sat taking deep breaths as I let the anger and fear pass and began the process of healing as I whispered words of thankfulness for that, as far as I could tell, nothing was broken, and my head had been spared a pounding with the fall. As gratitude filled the space between my ears and the depths of the heart still pounding in my chest, I drove away counting the multitude of blessings for which I was reminded to be thankful. Even the most challenging of experiences offer opportunities to recall the gratitude that fuels a thriving heart!

The frosted fields glisten in the morning sun as the new day arrives. The small herd of cattle grazes ravenously on the whitened grass covering their now familiar abode. Prognosticators proclaim that a coming storm will cover the landscape and highways with multiple inches of snow and a potential mixture of ice. Sitting in the well heated den gazing across the sun lighted fields seems a long cry from the forecasted storm. Past experience heightens the awareness of this PD hosting old codger who has made his list and is checking it twice, regardless of niceties so as to be as prepared as possible for the stormy weather arrival. Likewise, past experience heightens awareness of the potential for slower and shaky movements as anxiety rises over challenges to come. Reminding myself that “fortune telling” is not a spiritual gift, I settle down to a place in my thoughts that taps into the generous well of gratitude and then begin to dip out cups of thankfulness. As this now thankful trustor in the One who provides the substance and meaning of the well from which we draw, contemplates the day at hand, I do so with a mind heightened with optimism and a heart lifted in anticipation of thriving moments! This is truly the day that the Creator has made, and we will rejoice and be glad in every aspect of it!

Another day of blowing rain and supersaturated soil play unwitting hosts to this less than agile possessor of Parkinson’s symptoms who has ventured out only once, of necessity this day. Tucked cozily away in the warmth of the den, surrounded by all the perceived necessary electronic paraphernalia along with countless books at easy access, this antsy, elderly, alternatively abled fellow reclines with computer in his lap, ready to see what others may be engaging on this cold and rainy day. Looking out briefly to the fields and trees surrounding the old farm house, I catch a glimpse of those sharp brown crested eyes looking so intently toward me. Having made eye contact, I speak gently to the now four-year-old Golden Retriever named Gracie who shares this living space in a way reflecting her name. She moves closer and puts her chin on the arm of my recliner as she continues her desiring stare. Knowing her habits and her frequent desire for the closeness of humans in her home, I gently put the computer away and out of my lap as she then proceeds to a place directly in front of me. A slight tap on my leg and gently whisper “okay” and the 72-pound bundle of warm golden fur gently puts her front paws in my lap. With arms stretched out I gently grab her hind legs and hoist her to her favorite position in the middle of my lap. Her approval is expressed with a gently groan as though saying “now this is the place I call home”! One hand rubs her head, ears and neck as the other gently rubs her back as her warm body engulfs my lap. These moments of her weight on my legs and warmth penetrating them often bring soothing relief to what has been called “off” moments of Parkinson’s. As we sit comfortably embracing our time together and look out of the windows at the glistening fields and the leaves being blown from the old Pecan tree, thoughts and feelings of gratitude well up from within. I pause to thank my Creator for the warmth, the view, the comfort of this abode and the presence of that precious life He has “graced” me with these last four years. Gratitude then becomes the foundation upon which this seeker of fulfilling God’s will grows closer to understanding that life’s greatest blessings are often within our reach.

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!

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