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!

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!