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!

Outside, the view is overcast and gloomy. Inside, the room in which this PD possessor resides, is cozy and warm. An early rise to provide transport of my lovely but sometimes “tardy” teenage granddaughter to her high school was met today with success (as is every day). As I waited with a second cup of coffee at the nearby country diner for a gentleman introduced through email as one who was also experiencing the symptoms of Parkinson’s, I checked for messages and emails on my handy little cellphone. The new acquaintance arrived, and I could immediately tell he was experiencing some symptoms not unlike mine. Slowness of movement and a slight shuffle in his gait were the two most obvious to me, though perhaps not to others who do not experience such impediments as “normal” hoppers, skippers, and jumpers! During our visit over a tasty breakfast, we shared the individual experiences of uncovering the symptoms that would ultimately lead to the diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. The similarities were enough for each of us to be sensitive to the struggle sometimes experienced by the other. As many times that I have read about and heard about another person experiencing early symptoms (a relatively recent friend who has had PD for many years has shared some of his story as well), this was my first time sharing face to face with another who has been challenged by unveiling of this uninvited guest residing deep in the brain. Conversation moved from family background through professional experiences and the place of faith in life now. The richness of sharing the place that gratitude and thankfulness have provided was encouraging to both. We promised more sharing time as encouragement and inspiration to each other as we nurture our individual THRIVING HEARTS. Gratitude is the wonderful foundation upon which a soul’s journey may be fastened as the Maker refines.

The visitor, unwelcomed and uninvited, came to visit again. Finding a place of comfort between the sheets was an effort strong enough to bring this reluctant host of PD to full awareness that sleep was not to revisit any time soon. Pain was insisting that attention be given as this host became obsessed with thoughts of relieving self of the visitor. The sturdy recliner offered welcomed relief, embracing the aging and now tired recipient of reduced dopamine. In those wee hours of the morning a browse through social media brought our attention to remembrances of two young men in their thirties, taken away, each by auto accidents. The tears began to well up in these previously dry eyes until they expressed their fluid full force after reading a tribute to a humble member of a local ministry who passed away from cancer and left so many of his cohorts in a state of grief. Now fully flowing with tears, it was time to just let it flow. As the emotional purge proceeded, recollections of the wonder of things experienced because of these precious lives came to mind and were uttered in expressions of gratitude to God for having been in my life. Their lives and the loss of the communities in which they thrived were not about me, but as I continued to give thanks it was easier to see that so many others were touched in more and different ways by these lives now being remembered. Gratitude became the lens through which the miracle of love became alive even in the face of what is termed as death. The light of today glows brighter and clearer because of its reflection through gratitude.

The evening dew has turned to frosty crystals over the grass, stone driveway and vehicles needed this morning for planned errands to start the week. Glowing sunshine creates a glare as it brightens even the crystals on the compost embracing the tree trunks. The chickens are out early today and Edna the friendly hen expresses herself impatiently as the pup finds joy in chasing after her. Just a few weeks ago we were roaming the hills of Galilee beholding the wonders of olive groves dotting the hilly landscape. The tour bus stop by the River Jordan gave us ample time to explore some of the nooks and crannies of this ancient river connected to the sea upon which the Savior walked. Stepping gently onto the still clear water near the steps into the baptismal pool, I reached down to touch the water I perceived to be so precious. The curious fish came floating by much like Edna the hen comes looking for tossed morsels. Seeing fingers plunging beneath the crystal blue surface gave the fish pause and he abruptly swam from the river’s edge. The tranquil flow of the blue green stream was enough to calm the thoughts and potential fears of this unwilling host to the disease called Parkinson’s. With a grateful heart I gave thanks for the opportunity to stand quietly at the river’s edge, taking in the beauty of the present moment with thoughts of its ancient past. This farm boy, fraught with deficient dopamine, reflects quietly today upon the gift that is life experiences. They come one moment at a time, during one day at a time, and I am ever so thankful for the mind and moment of experience!

The wall, ancient and worn, was stuffed with sacred prayer notes left by those who had made their way to the ancient city of Jerusalem with the specific intent to pray at that location. The physical challenge of hills and uneven sandstone tiles along ancient pathways had dotted the labored walk along which the “tour” of Jerusalem had taken us. The ancient olive garden that had been identified as The Garden of Gethsemane was next to the old cemetery that had long ago been filled. Both lay across the valley from the closed gate to the city through which the Messiah will return and the gates will be then opened eternally. As I stood there at the western wall with both hands placed firmly on the stones laid thousands of years ago the feel of the wall was alive. Warmed by the sun of this semi-tropic climate, the stones smoothed by thousands of hands before mine seemed to welcome my touch and embrace the yearnings of my heart. As I silently laid my prayers before my Lord at this age-old location, I was filled with the presence of gratitude for visions of what is possible and thankfulness for what is now. The memory of those moments will be with me forever and I now believe insight into ways to pray was opened during those moments. It was not the wall, it was not the city, it was not my fervent desire laid upon the stone, but it was a thankful heart embraced by a mind diving deeper in the waters of gratitude that opened this grace receiver to the miracles of a Creator who never ceases to create.

The renovated old chapel beside the quaint Ocean Grove police station was brightly lit as we gathered with dear friends from years gone by. The driving journey of nearly nine hours had left this host of PD symptoms stiff and achy, yet joyful to be present for this gathering celebrating the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s igniting act initiating the Reformation. Our host patiently pointed out the memorabilia he had collected over the last few years, many of the items dating back 400 years or more. The amazing journey of a self-deprecating cleric from a place of nearly constant despair in the throughs of his ignorance to a place of praise and rejoicing at the cure that emerged from his drinking from the well of knowledge and accurate interpretation is uplifting to anyone willing to learn. History has so many lessons from which we may learn if only we take the time to dwell for even short periods in the knowledge of past that enlightens the lens of the present. The weekend was filled with sharing, caring, and renewing as we looked into the journey of Luther through the lens of scripture, grace, and faith. Filled with gratitude and peace at what we experienced and learned. We undertook the journey back to the farm having been blessed on that shore in New Jersey. Thankfulness fuels our thoughts as we travel this highway of life in the brightness of the Creator’s love!

The giant pecan tree sways gently in the warmth of the north-westerly breeze meteorologically generated by a hurricane that just this weekend past devastated the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. Even with the breeze and swaying trees, the heat and humidity render the out of doors rather inhospitable to this possessor of Parkinson’s symptoms. Plans for working outdoors today have been thwarted by nature’s bent to generate heat greater than the norm during these early fall days. Adapting to a change in plans, we pursue indoor chores that also become physically challenging in a matter of minutes. Walking prompts a conscious effort to lift legs each step of the way lest we stumble over our own feet. A respite from muscle straining chores prompts this determined and somewhat unaccepting recipient of neurological wranglings to undertake a few minutes of focused exercise before settling in the comfort of his cushy recliner to pen these few words. Self- expression has become an outlet for the fuming heat of the challenge that exists between the space of “what’s desired” and “what is experienced.” In that space I have found a place of encouragement and inspiration. It is called “gratitude” and it possesses an amazing antidote to what may otherwise appear to be loss and grief. My gratitude emerges from a place deep in my heart that is soothed and inspired to know and to more graciously understand that the God who began this work in me will continue it to completion. To know (as in true reassurance) that God’s grace is sufficient provides a place of constant gestation from which renewed and clearer offspring emerge in words and thoughts of thankfulness. In the words expressed by the Apostle Paul, I am growing to understand and be enlivened by his statement; “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV. An impossible order on our own, but thank God, we have a helper who already abides in the place for which we long!

Twenty-seven gathered near and under the edge of the tent bearing the funeral home’s name. They had just left an hour long designated time of mingling and reminiscing in the funeral chapel surrounding a small table of pictures and the box bearing his ashes. Some faces I knew well whereas others bearing a faint familiarity from years gone by suddenly became alive in my memory as they uttered their name. The friend in whose honor and memory we gathered must have been smiling to his heavenly self as we were interacting just as he had expressed would be his desire. Morris was a modest man, full of humor while being grounded in the clay of practicality that held him close to it for seventy-three years. He had told his cousin Betty precisely how he wanted to see this gathering conducted and he had shared with me his graveside desire as well. Eighteen months before he had called me to make sure I was at home since he was planning on “dropping” by to see me. He and I shared a first cousin who we both adored and who had passed away two years prior. Although we had talked about once each month over the phone, I had not seen him since our cousin’s demise. As he slowly and somewhat feebly got out from his car with a welcoming and gleeful smile, a cheerful voice inquired as to my wellbeing. After a few moments of friendly chatter, he said profoundly; “I’ve been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer that has spread to other organs and I have about a year to live.” “Thomas,” he said, “I would like for you to do my service.” He was eager to reassure me that he was not afraid to meet his maker and that he was so very thankful for the years and life he had been gifted. We sat quietly on the porch that morning as I pledged my reverent honor to his wishes and gave thanks for his presence in my life. As we gathered around the gravesite this past Saturday, we shared memories and expressed our gratitude to the great giver of grace and the love that has filled the space that was carved out by our dear friend, Morris. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NIV)