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)

The bright sun shines illuminating the freshly mowed fields surrounding the old farm house. A gentle breeze swirls the ever so comfortable air of the last few days of summer through the leaves of the giant pecan tree near the driveway. This reluctant recipient of and host to PD, awake since the wee hours of the morning, lays prayers of hope and safety at the feet of his Lord for family and friends at risk of the raging winds and waves caused by the storm called Irma. I see the social media posts and messages from many who are in her path and from some who have fled the potential of her ire, and my mind goes to a place of gratitude for the blessing of knowing that special and unique person, possessed by the image of the one who is her or his creator. Even you who read this now may be prompted to think of those who have been and even still are a part of your life whose imprint has been laid within your memory. The blessing of relationship emerges when one realizes that the vista that is of “you” and that which is of “me” merge into that which can only best be explained as “we”. For that connection, which this part sees as divine, I give thanks and am comforted that within my heart and mind, you, me, and we, are blessings of the heavenly kind!

He called to see if I was going to be at home. He said he wanted to drop by for a few minutes and “catch up” on a few things. As I saw his car approaching along the driveway, I went to the door to greet the brother of my best friend from high school. Somewhat stooped and looking a bit stressed, he slowly made it from his car to the porch where we greeted one another. I invited him in but he said he would prefer the fresh spring air as we sat on the north facing porch. “So how have you been”, I asked. “Well,” he said, “that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” He told me he had just been diagnosed with late stage lung cancer that appeared to be spreading to other organs. He was very matter of fact and seemed clear headed that he was going to try some chemo and possible radiation therapy, but that the doctor didn’t expect he would make it for another year. I was somewhat lost for words (unusual for me)! Then he said; “I’d like for you to do my memorial service. “Of course,” I responded; “I would be honored to do that.” We shared a mutual cousin who had passed away a couple of years before, and I had done her graveside service as well.  His tone was very matter of fact as he shared with me his intention of extending his life as long as possible, but that he had also made friends with the fact that “death is simply a part of life.” We chatted about numerous things before he warmly said goodbye and crawled back in his car to head home. That was well over a year ago and he and we have been blessed with frequent contact and encouragement along his journey. His pain is great and his resolve and faith are each more solid than the day of his pronouncement. Grief stands to remind us of the joys and blessings that we have and do receive along this wonderful journey called life. Rather than being an emotion to avoid, I have learned to embrace those moments of grief as reminders (both tender and harsh) that when spread on the surface of gratitude, becomes a place of quiet comfort. Thanks for the warm embrace of life as you ponder all for which you are grateful!

The sun is shining, a breeze is blowing, the dogs are napping and the “girls” and their mom are secure within their newly updated and partially renovated home. Nearly four years ago the newly constructed gazebo served as the centerpiece for the wedding of my son and soon to be daughter-in-law. All the guests were gathered and seated in their chairs on the hill with a clear view the two love birds who were committing their lives in love to one another and the unit of family they were about to create. After the “I do’s” and the proclamation of two joined in law and love, all gathered for food, music, and the celebration of love. Today, there are four joined in that bond of love who now reside in the house beside the gazebo. Hard work, inspiration, dedication, and a hefty dose of gratitude have all coalesced to show we have been blessed to share more precious time and space with each other. As this unwelcoming, yet accommodating host to PD revels in the nearness of children and grandchildren living closer by, he never ceases to take the moments of quiet to whisper words of thankfulness to the One who’s very being is LOVE. Tiny hands joined with grateful hearts give substance to the offering of praise for every moment that is gifted. May our praise reflect our blessings as we learn to cherish each one!

After sunrise and the chicken coop door has opened, the seven young chickens begin to wander from their evening repose in search of morning fresh morsels to satisfy their seemingly never-ending hunger. They’ve just begun to lay small eggs, rich in color from the fresh vegetation and bugs and beetles found within the three acres of lawn. One hen seems to hang around the back deck near my truck. When I exit the house, she seems to know and makes her “perking” sound as she walks close as to greet me. The others, though seemingly not frightened of me, keep their distance. This one to whom I’ve given the random name of Edna, seems intent on seeking me out and staying close. She is near as I enter the car or truck for errands and has at times appeared eager to hop in for a ride. Edna is eager to greet me upon my return from errands or meetings and tilts her head to view me with her yellowish eye surrounded by an extended red crown and speckled black and white feathers. Edna has distinguished herself from the other hens and the rooster by her consistent seeking and following behavior. Of course, I could easily project onto Edna human characteristics that would explain her behavior, but that would be a paltry portrayal of uniquely poultry actions! Whatever her motivation, I find her behavior warmly interesting and unique. I’m thankful that Edna provides a bit of anticipation and reprieve from what could otherwise be a mundane daily journey through the stiff struggle of PD and reminds me that gratitude underpins this bridge over which we walk above the stream of symptoms. May your journey be enhanced by traveling on a path of gratitude well lighted by even the smallest gift for which to be thankful! Thanks, Edna!

A step outside resembles a visit to the sauna. Even the overcast skies and intermittent winds seem to only stir the steamy pot of perspiration prompting humid degrees. Gracie and her soon to be neighboring pup had a short ten-minute romp together and are now both sprawled exhaustedly at my feet. A three-hour tour on the zero-turn mower this morning rendered the nearly three acres of sprawling lawn a fresh hew neatly trimmed. It rendered this host to PD Stiff and shaky, but grateful to have gotten it accomplished. It’s so easy to revert to the mindset that life “should be” so much easier to maneuver. I see the chickens scavenging freely midst the mower tossed clippings and I witness the goats doing some seemingly effortless head butting while I struggle to walk to the house after exiting the seat of the mower. The pity party was over months (if not years) ago, so don’t misinterpret this reflection on reality as overly self-indulgent. I once pondered “why me”? Then the answer “why not?” came barreling my way. The etiology of Parkinson’s disease is medically explainable, so that tells me how tis came to be. I may never know why it is happening in me, any more than the millions of others who are presented with the disease challenge called Parkinson’s. But, I can know one thing for sure; I am ever so grateful for the moments I still have to move, to breathe, to hug, to enjoy a refreshing breeze, to see grandchildren frolic about and to glide a still nimble left hand over the computer keyboard as I share the expressions of this heart set on thriving in the glow of God’s grace. Parkinson’s was not my choice, but the mind I choose to have it live within is mine to wield. In my moments of sometimes pain and anger at the challenges being faced, I remind myself that the very breath I take is a gift and I find my spirit being lifted from a place of mourning to the dawning of a new morning lighted with new possibilities.

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