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FIRST-PERSON: Count your blessings

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) — You can count your burdens or you can count your blessings. It is your choice. But take care; your decision will have consequences.

If you focus only on what is wrong in your life, you will likely feel discouraged and defeated. Your attitude will probably be characterized by extreme negativity.

You might wind up sounding like the pessimistic Disney character Eeyore of Winnie the Pooh fame. A scene from one episode sums up the gray donkey’s outlook on life: “Good morning, Pooh Bear,” Eeyore said, “if it is a good morning, which I doubt.”

If you obsess over burdens, the chorus made famous on the once popular country variety show “Hee-Haw” might start playing in your mind: “Gloom, despair and agony on me. Deep dark depression, excessive misery. If it weren’t for bad luck I’d have no luck at all. Gloom, despair and agony on me.”

You can choose to count your burdens or, instead, you can focus on the positive things in your life. You can, in the words of the well-known hymn penned by Oatman Johnson, Jr., “Count your blessings” and even “name them one by one.”

Be like Paul Smith, a blessing counter who died in 2007 at age 85 after a lifelong battle with cerebral palsy which made even routine tasks difficult if not impossible.

According to one account, Smith’s parents were told he would likely not survive infancy. He not only survived to live more than eight decades, but he contributed to his world in a very expressive way.

Smith somehow discovered he possessed a unique ability. He was able to produce detailed works of art by using, of all things, a typewriter.

A report on the website HubPages described Smith’s ability, “Because of the spasticity caused by his cerebral palsy, Paul was unable to button his shirt or hold a toothbrush, much less a paintbrush. He was unable even to press two keys on the keyboard at the same time, but had to use his left hand to steady his right hand as he typed. Consequently, he usually put the caps lock on, and typed his art using the characters @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) _. Every stroke of this type of artwork must be planned in advance.”

Smith’s work takes seeing to believe. He replicated the Mona Lisa and produced a portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt among other paintings. When you consider the amount of time and effort it took for Smith to produce his exquisite works of art, it is simply astounding.

Smith could have lived each day counting his burdens and few would have blamed him. However, he counted his blessings and did what he could. He sat at a typewriter and produced incredible art.

A brief video of Smith’s story can be viewed on YouTube by clicking here.

French journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby was another blessing counter. He suffered a massive stroke in December 1995. Twenty days later, the 43-year-old father of two awoke from a coma to discover the only muscles in his body unaffected by the stroke were those of his left eye.

By blinking, Bauby was able to make it clear that though his flesh was unresponsive, his mind was unimpaired.

Through an amazing process, Bauby was able to communicate. A special chart was devised that listed the letters of the alphabet based on frequency of usage. As letters were pointed to, Bauby would blink to indicate his selection and thus spell out his communication.

Undaunted by his debilitating setback, Bauby continued to write. He worked daily in three-hour shifts, blinking his thoughts one letter at a time as a secretary pointed to the chart.

Though the process was painfully slow, by the end of the summer of 1996, Bauby had “dictated” the text of a 137-page book.

Titled “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” Bauby’s work was published in 1997. In this extraordinary book, he shares the experience of possessing a healthy mind that is trapped inside a paralyzed body.

He compares his own body to a diving bell — a mere container, providing only life support — in which his soul exists like a caged butterfly. Jean-Dominique Bauby died on March 9, 1997, two days after his book was published.

Like Smith, Bauby could have allowed his burdens to overwhelm him. He could have simply sat in a hospital room and waited to die. Instead, he counted the blessing that he could communicate at all.

Bauby’s decision to blink out a book has provided incredible insight concerning those trapped inside paralyzed bodies but whose minds are vibrantly alive.

I find Smith and Bauby’s determination to embrace life in spite of debilitating circumstances inspiring and convicting.

Shame on me when I allow petty problems to obscure the incredible blessings God has placed in my life. Shame on your when you do the same.

Today you have a choice. You can count your burdens, and I’m sure you have some. We all do. However, you can also choose to count your blessings. I am quite sure you have some of them as well. Perhaps more than you realize.

    About the Author

  • Kelly Boggs