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.

Our humanly constructed timelines have been ignored by nature’s fulfillment of its destiny. The designation of Spring has not been accomplished until winter decides to vacate. The transition of seasons over the last year has been more tedious than this possessor of PD can recall. From four inches of snow in the morning to sun-filled green fields in the afternoon gifted us with awe. Not only has awe been a frequent frame of temperament, but also the presence of pain, resistance and slowed movement has presented this septuagenarian with a need for conscious focus on a place of gratitude as an underpinning of daily habits. The pathway down which we have found our way since the acknowledgement of the neurological dysfunction known as Parkinson’s has been fraught with challenges that have required a pause, an intention, an acknowledgment of that challenge where once there was none and then a place of rest giving thanks for the sustaining force that propels us to the next action and achievement. Without the well of gratitude from which peace, and perseverance flow, there would be severe thirst for meaning and a hunger for what was, at the sake of ignoring the grace of what is! Today holds what IS; yesterday is past, along with its extinct companion known as what WAS. Tomorrow waves its fantasy enticement fanning the flames between hope and despair. Today I plant the seeds of thankfulness in the soil of gratitude for what is the gift of life.

Unusual February weather has inspired opening doors and windows to the freshness of the outside. A soft breeze flows pleasantly by as the ravens peck the worm eaten pecans fallen to the ground during the autumn storms. Nature has offered a reprieve from the ravages of the extreme cold weather of just two weeks ago and this PD infested body shows its gratitude with greater ease of movement. Granddaughter has chosen a nap time after having two teeth filled at the local dentist. The local anesthetic used may have been a contributor to her desire for a nap, or it could easily be the afternoon expression of a teenager home early from school. This grandfather’s heart is filled with thanksgiving for the safety of all four of the youngsters dubbed as grand. Newscasters rant about the course of action or inaction of those in political power and some even disparage the expression of grief and loss that manifests as apparent anger from some who lost friends and relatives in the horrible school shooting last week. Hate filled and/or anger infused posts seem to invade social media. I endeavor to refrain from either and take my cares to the One I seek in prayer, giving thanks for grace and mercy that is eternally promised as sufficient. For some that is not enough and for others it is far too much. I share it here only in the hopes of encouragement for those who in the midst of grief, sadness, anger, frustration, or humble concern, may find a place of peace in the presence of their Provider! I find Psalm 23 to be soothing.

The day had been filled with chores and this slow-moving host to the unwelcomed intruder called PD had limbered up by engaging in some exercises and just pushing forward. Waiting quietly in the sturdy pick up truck near the end of the driveway for the soon to arrive granddaughter from her day at school, I lowered the window to inhale the fresh warm air that was embracing us this January day. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed the flickering movement. Observing more closely, I could see the distinct markings of a precious honey bee. Just two hundred yards away stand nine bee hives attended by a local bee keeper who shares my desire to see the survival of the honey bee for the good of all of nature’s bounty. The faithful worker seemed to be checking out the fellow bee he was seeing in the somewhat oversized rear-view mirror of the truck. Flying closer, he hovered just long enough to make his decision to get on with his business. Grateful for the reminder that the hives were nearby, I whispered a prayer of thanks for the blessing that the bees are to the local wildlife and its perpetuation. Just a moment along the journey provided the opportunity to witness a lead actor in this play of life and be reminded that the task of benefitting all begins on the wings (legs, leaves, blossoms, mind, hands) of one. May we all live out the role for which we were made!

Relief from the record breaking cold that insinuated itself for an extended period has finally given way to more “seasonable” weather. Yesterday, a bee from one of the several hives down the hill buzzed by as though seeking a handout. Prognosticators assert that this reprieve will be short-lived with the return of freezing cold by the weekend. Nevertheless, this unwilling but accepting host to the disease named after the fellow called Parkinson is soaking in the anticipation of greater freedom in movement and anticipating the joy experienced therein. All those things seemingly taken for granted in years past now appear to come as a reminder that for this dopamine depleted lad a basket of gratitude is the fuel best suited to propel this minute, this hour, and this day. Each victory of movement seems now to arrive with more fuel for the journey and less angst at what was once taken for granted in completing each intention.

The sun was bright that chilly winter day just a couple of weeks ago as we chatted about the blessings of Christmas and all the ornaments that visitors had placed on his tall and slender tree. He asked if I would read to him from the book I had published a few months ago. As I completed what was intended as a daily devotional reflecting on a life occurrence, he would smile and say, “that was beautiful”. We shared together a few more “devotions” before I suggested we save some more for later. He said, “your words paint such a beautiful portrait of life at that moment.” All I could say was “thank you”, that’s encouraging. I visited him just one more time before the Christmas celebration that we all enjoy so much. The customary Friday visit around noon yesterday was postponed because he was not feeling well. ALS had taken a heavy toll on this masterfully talented man who is so respected by so many and music maestro to many more. As I woke early this morning and took my “awakening” position in the recliner, Gary came to my mind and I whispered words of thankfulness for his friendship and asked that God grant him peace and renewal. Around 10:00 am I received the call that my friend had passed away overnight. Grief engulfed my being as I held the sobs until after the call. The sobs were expressions of both loss and gratitude. I felt a deep sense of loss of a wonderful friend and at the same time tremendous joy at the freedom he now enjoys, having escaped the earthly shackles of this debilitating disease that kept him captive. I have only known him for a couple of years, making weekly visits to share reflections of life’s experiences and to encourage him along his journey. Others who have known him for seemingly a lifetime must truly feel the loss more deeply than I. I am so very thankful for the opportunity to meet, to share memories with, and to be enriched by this wonderful human known as Gary Ferguson. Thank you, God, and thank you Gary. I’m sure you both are rejoicing in the other!